Ever spend the better part of a rainy day playing one of those marathon games of Monopoly that end up in an epic verbal slap fight over obscure rules? Did you leave wishing you could have given the creator a piece of your mind back in 1933, changing the way rent is collected or how many stupid big red plastic hotels you could put on one property at one time? And who in the hell names a road Baltic Avenue anyway?
While nobody can go back in time and change Monopoly – or any classic game for that matter – an event this weekend in Socastee gives anybody the chance to offer their two cents on board games that just might end up being the next big thing.
It’s called an “Unpub,” the second event of its kind sponsored by the Grand Strand Gamers, a group of local board game enthusiasts. It runs from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday at White Widow Games on Socastee Boulevard, and is open and free to the public.
The name is short for “unpublished,” because local and regional game developers will be present to show off board and tabletop games that haven’t been published, meaning they’re still in the research and design mode and haven’t been picked up by publishers yet.
“The designers will have games they’ve created set up on tables, and people will have an opportunity to play them and offer feedback on what could be done better,” said Donald Dennis of Pawleys Island, a member of Grand Strand Gamers and one of the event’s main organizers.
The first Grand Strand Unpub, held at White Widow back in May, drew eight developers with unpublished games and about 30 people who came by to try them out. Organizers hope to draw more people to this event and stress the fact that everybody is welcome. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hard-core gamer who knows the most obscure rules for the most complicated strategy game on the market, or if you’re Joe Blow whose most memorable game experience was beating your cousin Mort in a drunken bout of Battleship back in 1994.
“The more average players are ultimately the target audience, because you want to develop a game that’s going to interest them,” said Sean Torrens, co-founder of Grand Strand Gamers. “You don’t necessarily want to hit the experienced gamers unless you’ve developed something that’s targeted just to them.”
Torrens said Unpubs are important for game developers because you never know if a game concept is going to work until people that have never seen it before sit down and actually try to play it. He knows from firsthand experience after attempting several years ago to develop a pirate-themed game that ended up having a few cumbersome rules that made play difficult.
“Board games require a lot of play testing to get them honed just right,” Torrens said. “It’s like working out the bugs from a computer program. Something that seems great on paper might not work when you put it in front of players. They might not understand it, or it’s too complex, or the game falls apart because one system doesn’t end up working the way you think it will. You want a game to be fun.”
To paraphrase a well-known pawn shop reality show, you never know what is going to walk in the door at an “Unpub.” The May event drew developers with games centered on outer space, the stock market, and historical war games. One popular offering from Myrtle Beach area developer Joseph Perry put a tabletop spin on the Farmville concept, offering players a chance to plant, grow and sell crops in a “Farmer’s Market” format.
“A few common elements make a game good these days,” Dennis said. “It needs to encourage people to stay involved and active, not to have to wait 15 minutes between turns. There’s also a lot of focus on building things up – building a character, an empire, a country, a farm.”
Cooperative games have also become very popular, he said. These are games that focus on players working toward one specific goal, like starting a nation, overcoming a villain or even planting, growing and selling produce.
Some popular cooperative games even fit in with current headlines. One called “Pandemic” requires players to function as medics, scientists, researchers, even emergency dispatchers, to stop diseases raging on all seven continents.
Jason Frye, who co-hosted the first Unpub, said “micro games” are another popular trend resurfacing after their first surge in the 1980s. These are smaller, compact versions of large tabletop games, frequently have war or strategy themes, and rounds can often be played more quickly than larger, more involved games that involve extensive set-up and take hours to complete.
Dennis and the other organizers don’t know yet exactly what kind of games will be featured at the Unpub, but that’s part of what makes the event fun, they say. It’s a chance to show up and try your hand at something completely new that might eventually end up on store shelves – and could become your next rainy day diversion.
“This is a chance to see what games have evolved into, a fresh take on an old hobby,” Dennis said. “Board games are something you can use over and over and over again. They’re a lot of entertainment for the money. It’s all about finding a game that fits your lifestyle and interests.”