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  • Writer's picture Danielle Reynolds - @TokenGaymer

Waitress Games Design Retreats

Playtesing Star Gazers

This past weekend I drove 4.5 hours down to St. Louis for the Waitress Games design retreat. I had never been to one of the retreats before this and wasn’t sure what to expect. Jessa and I arrived late but thankfully many people were still awake enough to play a few games. Quickly I realized there were some designers I’d known of from podcasts and just having played their game. The group was a mixed bag of newer designers and seasoned designers. A few had their own companies or worked for some pretty large names like Fireside Games. Funny enough I knew one person from pitching to them back at Origins this year and another one from social media and e-mails. It just solidifies that this community is a very close nit group.

Playtesting Let's Sort It Out

Jessa and I were only able to attend for the weekend even though it was a full-week event. Surprisingly, there was no actual structure to the weekend. Just a bunch of designers with their prototypes asking each other to play their game. Thanks to the large number of people we were able to play two or three games at a time and really cycle through games. Most people were up from 10am to 5am most days playing games and talking. Some people spent more time on their computers then interacting but for all I know they were just tweaking their prototypes. Before leaving I was able to get almost all of my prototypes tested and received amazing feedback. We played the first playtest of my game Team Hero and proved it wasn’t broken but did need something extra added, so I have a good amount of changes to do before playing again. Beyond that we laughed playing my 18-identical card game Mind’s Eye for the Button Shy Games design contest and proved that Nut Stash is ready for print! Let’s Sort It Out got some great feedback that I quickly introduced to the game. But most helpful of all, Star Gazers got tons of suggestions on how to make it less like an activity and more like a game.

Staring contest while playtesting Mind's Eye!

It was nice being with so many creative people who were willing to give their honest opinions and help to improve my game. I wish I could have stayed longer. After each playtest of someone’s game they would go back change things then we’d play the game again. This allowed for rapid fine tuning of ideas. There was a printer, two cutters and tons of donated Game Crafter and Panada Manufacturing pieces to borrow when fine tuning. I found this as helpful if not more helpful then a Protospiel or Unpub. I’m sure different retreats would feel different because the group of designers. But I enjoyed everyone who was there and their different ways of giving/receiving feedback. Hopefully a suggestion of mine will help someone in the future with their game.

Here’s a list of things I enjoyed/found invaluable as well as some that could have been improved about the retreat:

Things I enjoyed/found invaluable:

  • Willing Playtesters

  • Receiving and giving good feedback

  • Quick turnaround for prototyping then playing

  • Playing other designer’s games to see how they prototype and take feedback

  • Meeting new people

  • Learning from other designers’ experiences

  • Possibly testing some future published games

  • Suggestions on future events to attend and published games to play

  • Confirming that I’m doing all the right things as a new designer

Things that could be Improved:

  • The food was generic brand versus main brand which seemed weird for how much the retreat costs.

  • The loft or penthouse we stayed at was a dump. My roommate got three splinters just walking around in our room. The kitchen light stopped working. The furniture was all uncomfortable which killed everyone’s backs. A lot of the bedrooms didn’t have doors just curtains.

  • Possibly add a schedule for which games were getting played next. I promised a few people I’d play their games but would then get grabbed by someone else. I felt bad for not playing at least one game of every designers.

First of two games playing Nut Stash!

Basically, everything about the designing was great. The location of St. Louis was convenient, but the housing could be improved. I looked on Waitress Games’ site and the pictures of the loft looked great. My guess is AirBNB duped them into thinking the place was better than it was. I won’t blame the retreat for that. I just hope they don’t use it in the future. The only good things about it was there were plenty of beds, good parking and lots of space. It could have used more tables though.

Giving feedback on another designer's party game.

Overall, if you are looking to be very productive go to a retreat. I did more in that weekend then I get done in some months. Having access to constant playtesters is invaluable. Especially when they have a design background so they can give you really good feedback on how to make your game great. A nice thing about Waitress Games is JR puts his retreats all over the US which helps people like me be able to drive for just a weekend if we don’t have anymore time off from our day job.

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