As human beings, we have the fortunate ability to be able to regulate our internal temperatures. Still, however, it takes great effort in extreme conditions and sometimes, it is better to use our surroundings to our advantage. Standing in the shadow of a large tree, for instance, helps protect us from the damaging rays of the sun and cools our skin a few degrees… which is sometimes all it takes to be comfortable. I can only imagine how important this simple practice would have been to our ancestors as they spent a short respite during the afternoon… resting from their long work days without the aid of modern climate control technology. I love a good shade tree. Especially one surrounded by wilderness and void of human hustle and bustle.
This past weekend I was rewarded with the opportunity to stand in the shadow of a different kind of giant. Standing in a blissfully cool room… filled with thousands of people… I found my shade in the form of a thin, humble, Polish man named Ignacy Trzewiczek. Having the opportunity to stand in the shadow of an industry giant, really puts things into perspective for a small-time designer like myself.
If you don’t know who Ignacy is… and you follow my game design blog… you need to go to Board Game Geek right now and read his blog. All of it. Then play all his games… not just his designs either, play all of Portals games. Ignacy will only publish a game if he believes it is the greatest game ever. You won’t be disappointed.
Don’t want to do all that? Fine. Here’s the quick intro to who this man is: Ignacy was born in communist Poland and saw his country adopt democracy at a young age. Since that time, there has been large growths in gaming… both in publishing/manufacturing, and in playing. In the late 90’s, Ignacy started a small publishing company to produce a gaming related magazine called Portal. Through that company he published a few small RPG products, and then later, card and board games. Ignacy isn’t just another designer, self publishing his own work because no one else wants it. Some of his well-known designs have been published by well-known publishers: Robinson Crusoe from Z-Man, Witcher from FFG, and Stronghold from IELLO.
Alright, so this article might contain a sickening amount of man-love. I like the guy. I like the designer. I like the publisher. I like the father. I like the author. Ignacy is living this dream that so many of us have and he’s doing it in splendid fashion. Portal had signed a game from a close friend and was instantly on my radar after that. When I learned that he’d be coming to Gen Con with a new game, Imperial Settlers, I was intrigued. When Ignacy tweeted that he’d need some help demoing games at the show, I became excited. I had no agenda this year. I’ve written about how valuable demoing can be to a new designer, so I decided to take my own advice. I was going to demo for Portal games.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this. Part of the reason my Gen Con was so free was that I had been in an extreme creative slump for almost a year. PULL! was one of the few projects I had started and finished, and the campaign took a great deal of energy from me for many months. I needed a break and having something to do at Gen Con would be refreshing. Additionally, I would have a steady place to find me during the show for anyone that had pledged for Gen Con pickup.
A Look Behind the Curtain
Now, this is not the first time I have worked on demo teams at shows. Far from it, in fact. I got my start in this industry doing just that. This is the first time, however, I’ve been able to work directly for the publisher/designer on a game that was received with nothing but enthusiasm by everyone. From the moment I approached the booth early Thursday morning, it was obvious that the game was already a hit. There was a line wrapping around the aisle and all the available copies of Imperial Settlers were sold in less than 30 minutes.
Watching Ignacy receive his fans. Watching the players reactions to his game… it was magical. I’ve been in a slump for a very long time and these four days did more for me than you could imagine. I wasn’t just another demo team member in a huge booth with a demo manager. I was one of four people in a tiny little booth, teaching an amazing game, in a very intimate setting. I was a friend, helping out a friend… who just happens to be one of the biggest names in game design right now. If you ever get the chance to work this close with a well known designer, throw everything away to do so. Do not miss the opportunity.
A Light in the Shadow
I’ve been in this slump for so long I forgot what it felt like to be excited. I was excited to be there, teaching, but I was also excited for the future… for my future. I had new ideas. I made mental progress on my designs. There’s something contagious about Ignacy’s confidence. He knows he makes great games. Not because he’s arrogant… but because he pours his entire existence into them. He becomes the game for as long as it takes to get the job done… and done to perfection. He can talk you out of your money in two minutes, in broken English, and you will be elated to hand it over to him.
I’ve been rewarded with a peek at success. Standing in this shadow, I got to see that thing we all want… I’ve seen what I can accomplish if I put my mind to it. I’m not talking about money. If you still have dreams of making it big in this industry and buying a Bentley, you need to walk away. Money isn’t my concern. I enjoy telling stories, and making people happy. I enjoy seeing the excitement on player’s faces as they figure out a game. I enjoy the social interaction of a group of friends, gathered around a table, discussing the meta of my game. If I can accomplish that, without losing money each year, I’ll consider myself a success.
Right now, I’m finishing the fulfillment for PULL! That’s taking a ton of my time and mental energy. It’s a big task, and when you have depression issues, it makes it seem even bigger. Just getting off of the couch and going downstairs to start is an effort… the funny thing is, once I start, I enjoy the work. Stupid brain. Anyways… I have two designs I’m actively working on and I’ll be writing about them soon. The future is much brighter than it was a year ago… and all it took was a brief moment in the shade.