There’s a lot of good things that come out of November, as the holiday season kicks off, and with the extended shopping hours and long weekends come more events and more fun to be had right here in town. Every November is Nerdy November at the Logan Theatre, and part of each year’s celebration is one of our favorite Chicago gaming moments of each year, The Playtest Party. The Logan’s Playtest Party brings together aspiring and experienced tabletop, mobile and video game devs and Chicago’s curious, enthusiastic and diverse gamers and shows off the creativity and passion the area’s local developers share to create some truly amazing games, with each vying for a coveted prize package that includes one tabletop and one video games winners very own booths to show off their games at C2E2.
This is a November tradition that’s been going on for six years now, and as the gaming scene grows and C2E2 balloons into an even bigger, more well known con powerhouse, the prize of having your own booth on the show floor becomes an even bigger life-changer. It’s part of what makes it so exciting to see these games in their infancy–pre-release, pre mass production with sketches and frameworks and stories still in progress, and know that you may just see them on Amazon, at Target or on digital storefronts like Steam fully polished and ready to shine.
While this year’s event was as heavily attended as ever, it didn’t seem to have quite as many games, on either the tabletop or video game front. In some ways, given the small space of the Logan Theatre’s lounge, this was nice, as there was room for a little bit of VR space and it was easier to move around tables to get a better look at (or to participate with) any of the games out and about. Still, with it being such a good opportunity, we hope it trends up again next year. Here’s a look at what we saw at this year’s party, where you can find them, and what we thought, and then tell you who the Logans’ panel of judges and attendees awarded top honors to, and who you’ll be running into at this year’s C2E2:
Royal Unions (aka Royal Match) is a fun twist on standard card games with a happy go lucky “big gay theme”–according to its developer Dave Pickett. In Royal Unions, you find the four kingdoms are at war, and the only thing that’ll restore peace is, as it happens, a “big gay wedding.” Royal Unions adds some interesting mechanics to a sort of go fish baseline. You’ll need to work at getting sets of face cards to complete your hands, and there are a few different possible outcomes–from a one winner scenario to 2 to 4 winners or even all four players ending up emptyhanded, so to speak. Your hand is always known to other players, and the different rounds mix things up enough that you’ll need to form alliances or play a little dirty to get the outcome you want. Royal Unions is currently in open beta, and can be played with a regular set of cards. You can name your price here and download everything you need to play, and we suggest it–gameplay was easy to pick up, and the strategy element really added to our enjoyment. You can also follow the game’s developer on Twitter.
Mint Condition Comics
Mint Condition Comics is a new game by the winners of last year’s tabletop round, Neat Games. They weren’t resting on their laurels after C2E2 and a successful Kickstarter for adorable and engaging Too Many Poops (not to mention the release of their game on amazon just a week or two ago) but were instead making a game that’s a love letter to comic book stores and collectors. Mint Condition Comics works on a set building principle, with each person trying to get the best, rarest and most issues of a particular series, and adds in all sorts of interesting modifications to that basic idea to add things like specials and trending comics. It’s easy to pick up, but hard to master, with a good amount of strategy required to stay on top. We’ll be looking forward to this one hitting stores, too, with any luck. For now, you can back this fun new game via Kickstarter, and keep an eye on their website for info on any new developments. We can certainly see this being a game night staple.
One More Thing
One More Thing is one of a few games we’ve seen lately where it’s more about the journey than the win condition. One More Thing, developed by Nathan D Paoletta and Stephen Winchell, is a two player game where one person plays as the stereotypical tv detective (think Columbo) and one is the dastardly murderer. You’ll take on these archetypes and, already knowing everything about whodunit, instead focus on how it’s done…creating these sorts of entertaining murder mysteries, that is.
As the detective, this means uncovering and interpreting evidence (which is one of several actions you can do in a scene, though you can also interrogate) and as the murderer, by getting the “audience” to feel certain ways about you–sympathetic for example, or for them to feel you’re a genius. Winning, then is subjective, as both people are more aiming to create compelling entertainment, and will call for an eventual finale in which the crime will be laid out as dramatically as possible. It’s great fun if you can find willing participants to really crank up the cornball and drama factors and would be great for a party.
One More Thing has a Kickstarter that’s just about to hit its funding with 3 days left, and you can help it meet its goal, while being one of the first to get your hands on it. The box set we saw features perfectly themed artwork that’ll get the creative juices flowing and help aid your creative process.
We had a great time just dipping our toes into One More Thing, and imagine anyone who’s seen their fair share of Law and Order, Bones, CSI, NCIS, Matlock, Columbo or Murder She Wrote is primed and ready for the action.
Similarly, Fortunes concentrates more on storytelling,this time in the context of Tarot card reading. Each player draws a fortune, and then builds a character around that fortune during 3 different rounds. Here again, the goal is the story, not a particular win condition, as you try to craft something funny, interesting or both–and a lot depends on the audience whether the game is more comedy or insight.
Though during its infancy, the game was using standard Tarot cards, we got a chance to peek at some of the hand drawn art planned for a later version and it was some of the best art we saw at the event hands down.
If you want to check out Fortunes for yourself, check out the planned events for the game, including an appearance at Uncharted Books tonight and some Milwaukee and Madison dates, and keep up with their website or join their email list for more.
Road to Infamy Games, also known as R2i, is another familiar name to us, who’ve brought great games with fantastic art to life everywhere from International Games Day at the Chicago Public Library to the Playtest Parties of the past, beginning with their titular hit, Road to Infamy, which helped you run the most infamous crime operation in Chicago.
Canvas, in contrast, is a game about art. The players’ goal in this game is to create a painting by layering 3 art cards together. Here’s where Canvas’ design stands out–each of the cards are made from transparent plastic, so they layer effortlessly, and show through the details and scoring information needed to determine what makes your art shine.
As with everything we’ve seen from R2i, this looks well thought out and fun, and judging by the crowds of people waiting to get a chance to play, it’s something worth checking out. Find out more about Canvas by following Road to Infamy Games on Facebook, Twitter, or simply bookmarking their site.
T.P. by Night City Games, while obviously a nod to a game that never came to be, Kojima’s horror masterpiece P.T., is a VR horror game that takes you to hell by way of the bathroom. T.P. is irreverent, certainly, but also has a lot of atmosphere and fun built into it, and, judging by the way people were behaving once they donned the virtual reality goggles, a good amount of jump scares, which are only amplified by the solitude of a VR play environment. If you like all things silly and scary, TP is worth looking into. Follow Night City Games on Twitter or sign up for their email list on their website.
Sashimi Slammers is a silly, neon fight to the fishy death by Furious Fish Friends which we originally encountered at Bit Bash’s fantastic Fabricade event, had a bright shiny new arcade cabinet build for the Playtest Party we hadn’t seen before. This and the fishy controllers drew folks in by the droves and for a long while it was impossible to get close to even see players enjoying the silly, fish slapping battle to the death. With great music, silly neon visuals and visceral gameplay, Sashimi Slammers is always a hit, literally and figuratively.
This game is fully downloadable for play at home (and it’s name your own price!) but if you keep in touch with its devs via their twitter account, you can find the version we saw at the Logan and get your hands on the ridiculous rubber fish controls to play the game as it was originally meant to be played.
Bitey Trees is a mobile game created by Sarah Hart, and in its current form it’s already available on the iPhone’s App store (sorry Android users!) Bitey Trees features a charming little world where the trees are out to get you, and you must fight them to survive, using a variety of elemental powers you’ll mete out with a few simple taps. In its current form it has 18 levels but will include 27 and additional things to discover, like treasure chests. You can already pick this up on Apple’s App store and have a good time, but with what Sarah seems to have planned for the future you can bet will only improve it. Find her on twitter here.
The trend towards the late ’80’s/’90’s neon aesthetic seems to have its hooks in us lately, and we couldn’t help but notice the purple pinky parkour madness of Captain’s Hold by Violent Video Games.
This game is a sort of space pirate adventure shooter that heavily relies on parkour and particularly fun game physics to propel you towards your goals, with your space pirate man equipped with a flexy, springy grappling hook to swing from one platform to the next on. We thought the physics felt great and the art, though a sort of impressionistic neon world, was a nice aesthetic, though we also found its free flying motion made us a little bit motion sick.
We’re excited to see what this game will be like as development continues and hope that we’ll have more time with future builds. You can download and play the free demo right now on GameJolt and follow its dev on Twitter and Discord.
Domesticate Hell is a sort of “kawaii” cute Stardew Valley/Tamagotchi inspired game of hell beasts you’ll tend to as Magenta, a 13 year old girl who passed away and is now tasked to open the Hell Gate. She can’t do that though, until she’s “participated in Hell’s capitalist agenda” and cared for all the various creatures that occupy Hell.
Its early build is adorable with every hellhound and hellcat extremely insta-dorable and ready to be cared for. Currently, there’s not much gameplay aside from feeding your pets before they get too unruly for hell, but devs say they’re planning on adding plenty more cute lil’ hellbeasts and more gameplay elements for more challenge and variety, and at only four months in development we think this could shape up to be something really special.
Dwelling part 0
Dwelling Part 0 is a metroidvania by local developer Luke Mayo that’s also taken notes from things like the art of HR Geiger. The result is a moody, dark and visceral game that features great physics and whose gameplay is smooth and satisfying. The art style is evocative and satisfyingly grotesque and some of the unique controls like the wormy main character’s suctiony ability both add to the feel and the fun of playing the game.
We really enjoyed the levels we explored and were happy to find out you can download the game on Itch.io and name your own price, as well as following Mayo’s twitter account here.
Weekend at Grandma’s
Weekend at Grandma’s is a VR game by Grandma’s Favorite Indie for Oculus Quest that was inspired by a literal trip to Grandma’s. The game’s devs, returning home from Columbia on holiday break, turned helping Grandma fix her VCR into a super cute VR game a la Job Simulator where cable management is the goal. You’ll need to figure out what plugs in where and how to make it look good, and you’ll find some super silly Easter Eggs along the way. Grandma’s house is charmingly retro, too, so you’ll feel right at home with the wood paneled walls and shag carpeting while you figure things out. And while this VR goodie is exclusive to the Quest, it’s already picking up speed, with over 1000 downloads by November’s party.
As we mentioned, Cold Calling was set to return to the Playtest Party, and did with some exciting new improvements and plans to share. There are new modifiers to deepen the gameplay, an improved inventory system and even a few surprises when it comes to bosses being ironed out, with an expected full release for the game coming in the next year.
Kakatte Koi Yo
Another familiar face we ran into from last year’s party was the team from Back Slash Games, busy working on cat fighting game Kakatte Koi Yo and as usual they were accompanied by a glut of people wanting to get in on the fish gathering, friend thwacking madness. This four person fighter has gotten some visual updates, new cats you’ll be able to play as, new stages, a new logo, and will soon be on Steam in Early Access. This game is a great one for couch co-op and it’s been a hit at every event we’ve encountered it at, so we think you’d do well to grab it on itch.io at your earliest convenience. We’ve also heard that there’s some exciting news coming up for fans of the game in the next month, so you’d do well to follow Kakatte Koi Yo’s twitter account, too.
After much deliberation and vote-counting, the winners were decided. This year’s winner for Best Tabletop Game was R2I Games with Canvas, and the top honors for Best Video Game went to the slapstick fun of Sashimi Slammers. Look out for both games as they go on to C2E2 to show off their hard work and hopefully get a full release in stores both digital and local.
Once again, the Logan Playtest Party brought us an incredible evening full of ambitious, passionate game developers and just as passionate gamers, ready to explore brand new worlds. We wish all the developers who put so much hard work into these games well, and hope to hear great things about them in the future. Don’t forget to follow these devs on social media, seek out their other titles, and visit Third Coast Review’s games and tech section to hear more about the games we saw at this year’s Logan Playtest Party and any number of other amazing games we can get our hands on.