Drink Beer & Test Locally Created Board Games at Designer’s Night!

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The walls of the Victory Point Café, Berkeley’s “first and best” board game café, are lined with hundreds of board games—everything from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan.

Each month, board game designers, developers, publishers and players from around the Bay Area join together for a night of beer and board games on “Designer’s Night,” an evening for people to play and test locally-developed games right alongside their creators, and have concepts explained while they play.

For the person who’s played them all, it’s a night to delve into the local game designing scene and see what people are producing. The Designer’s Night is different than a usual night at Victory Point, which gears toward a more casual crowd–it’s a night for the connoisseurs and creators.

“The real benefit to physical games, board games, card games, is that it brings people together,” said John Velgus, game designer and regular at the monthly Victory Point meet-up. “It’s more social than, say, video games.”

Cards flip, dice roll and glasses clink as groups pack around tables to enjoy games like Anomia, True Colors, Se Le Tiene, Lost Cities, El Dorado and family classics like Battleship, Uno and Risk.

The game designers that meet up at Victory Point either sell their idea to major publishers like Wizards of the Coast, Steve Jackman Games and Fantasy Flight Games or self-publish their game using Kickstarter.

“A lot of well-known designers have day jobs,” Velgus said. “But we’re here because we love it. A lot of us in the area are meeting every couple weeks.”

Game development is a long process, whether relying on the expertise of a big publisher or going it alone–but the scope of the imagination, organization and logic involved is impressive.

“There’s been a broad Bay Area designer community that’s been happening for years,” said John Brieger, a local game designer with several published games under his belt.

Brieger started designing games when he was in college and made a lot of games as part of his coursework.

“Two years ago, I started working on a game in my spare time—play testing it, not really sure if I was going to license it to someone or self-publish.”

London-based Spiral Galaxy Games play-tested Brieger’s game Mars Rover, about a team on a mission to Mars, and then began work on another recently-published game Door Number Three, a family memory bluffing game where game show hosts try to trick each other into taking terrible prizes.

“Part of being a table top game designer is figuring out your own process for game designing,” Brieger said. “The faster you can get it on paper, the faster you can prototype. Early ideas might be as simple as hand jotted notes on a bar napkin.”

While designers do worry about the look and feel of the game, what the board will look like, what the pieces and components will be, most of the work of designing is in creating the game mechanics—making it a joy to play, and easy to follow.

“A lot of designing is figuring out how to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible, because once you sign the game to the publisher, they’re responsible for the final art design,” Brieger said. “You have to worry that the game is legible, usable, that play testers can interpret—the publisher worries about making the game beautiful.”

“People keep calling it a board game renaissance,” said Nick Henning, an amateur game designer. “That might be a little pretentious—but it is true. The amount of people participating, the amount of games coming out, it’s really just kept going up since 2005.”

“I think people enjoy being around each other, sitting down and playing something face-to-face,” Henning said.  “It’s not automated—it’s spontaneous. I think overall, some board games weren’t as well-designed in the past, and I think we’re figuring out a lot of ways to make them more enjoyable.”

Table top board games are making a big comeback among all ages, perhaps as an escape from constant screen time. The Game Developers Conference, recently hosted at the Moscone Center in San Francisco March 19 – 23, drawing thousands of international game enthusiasts to the city, though SFGate reported that it was a rough welcome.

Stop by the next Designer’s Night to grab a sandwich, have a pint and try out new games with their creators every first Wednesday of the month from 6 p.m. – 11 p.m. at Victory Point Café, 1797 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley.

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James Gage

James Gage

Will write 4 food.