For a community to thrive and grow, it requires opportunities to meet and recruit new members. To say that Toronto’s design community is thriving would be a bit of an understatement. Games designed in the Six and the surrounding area are going on to gain attention and acclaim around the world. Creative minds like Chris Chung, Sen-Foong Lim, Daryl Andrews, Paul Tseng, Stephen Sauer, Jeff Lai, Daniel Rocci, and Tim Brown all hail from Toronto or close by in the surrounding area. Even Eric M. Lang considers Toronto his home base, despite currently residing in Singapore.
Opportunities to get together and test out their latest prototypes are hugely important to their continued success. There are many events throughout the year, such as Snakes and Lattes’ monthly Designer Nights, but consistently, one of the biggest events of the year is Proto T.O. This past weekend, I got a chance to attend Proto T.O. and I was thrilled to see how far the event has come. A sure sign that the design community in Toronto is stronger than ever.
Proto T.O. 2018 spanned three days in a downtown Toronto hotel, with multiple rooms for playtesting, panels, and open gaming. You could sign up as a player or designer, and each day was broken up into sessions where games could tested and the designers could get feedback on their work. This sort of impartial reviewing is invaluable to the development of a game. So often designers have to rely on the same friends and family to play their prototypes over and over again. The information gleaned from those sessions can start to become limited. Having access to a fresh set of eyes can help you see your work in a whole new light.
When I arrived at Proto T.O. this year, I was struck with how packed the rooms were. Pretty much every inch of table space was claimed for a work-in-progress game. As I made my way around, the second thing I noted was how innovative a lot of the titles looked. There were a lot of 3D structures, unique board designs, and weird components. It was the types of things you’d expect to see when people are given that sort of opportunity to try something completely new.
One title I was really excited to try was In the Hall of the Mountain King. The design itself is by Jay Cormier and Graeme Jahns, but it was presented to me by the publishers, Josh and Helaina Cappel of Burnt Island Games. They made a splash with their debut game, Endeavor: Age of Sail, so I was excited to see what they would pick as a follow up. In the Hall of the Mountain King tasks players with reclaiming and rebuilding the ancient underground kingdom of your troll ancestors. You have to collect resources and recruit additional trolls to work on your team. Using Tetris-style tunnels, you’ll excavate the mountain and try to unearth long-buried statues of great troll leaders of the past. One of the coolest elements of the game is the cascading resource triggering that occurs when you hire a new troll to your workforce. They are recruited in a pyramid fashion on your personal board and will activate all of the trolls beneath them, earning you new resources. Strategically deciding how to build your pyramid of worker trolls is important for allowing you to make the moves you want. Game end is triggered when one player adds a troll to the top of their employment pyramid, and each troll beneath it gains resources. It’s super satisfying to have those resource for the last rounds of the game.
I also got to try out Betty Payne by Erica Hayes-Bouyouris, a cooperative game where players take on the role of women pilots at the helm of WWII fighter and bomber planes. The airshow you were performing at was going great until…Cthulhu showed up. Now half the audience is corrupted and you have to work together to save the other half from joining them. Each of the different characters has their own statistics and special abilities, and you have to use them to your advantage to move the uninfected into the hangar at the centre, while killing off those who now follow the Great Old One. It works out to be kind of an abstract puzzle, where everyone is trying to contribute the best they can, but only by working together will you be able to save the day.
Another title that was hard to miss was Proto T.O. Founder, Pam Walls’ party game Act Fast! Think Quick! One person has to guess what people are performing in a sort of speed charade round. The difficulty, is that everyone is performing at the same time, so your attention is constantly being pulled in a number of different directions. Each performer only has a limited time to get you to guess their word, and a new timer starts and a new word is given each time you get one right. However, if time ever runs out on anyone, the round is over. It’s fast and frantic, but also a lot of fun.
It’s impossible to try everything at an event like Proto T.O. There were a ton of interesting looking games on display, and clearly there will be a lot of big names to join the ranks of Toronto designers already out there today. As long as there are opportunities like this for designers to work out the kinks in their games, I think we’ll see Toronto remain a hub for creativity for years to come.