Sports Simulation Board Games

2017: Looking Back, Looking Ahead...

Jim and Bob in AtlantaFORE! This is maybe my favorite photo of the entire year! Jim Surprenant and his son Bob get ready to tee off at Augusta for the PLAAY Masters Tournament at The Ravens Nest, Marietta, GA, April 1, 2017.

It's pretty clear that there's only one proper way to begin this newsletter: by saying "thank you!" 2017 was PLAAY Games' biggest and busiest year ever, and that's entirely thanks to this awesome community we have—that would include YOU! I'm really, really grateful for all the encouragement and support. I consider you all friends and peers more than customers, it's such a kick making games and card sets that we all can play together, individually-with-results-shared, cooperatively and even in-person! Yes, I play, too!! So, again—THANKS!

You may recall, I began the year by conducting a survey to determine the make-up of the community, gather some demographics, figure out interest levels, collect geographical information and, basically, map out a course for the future of PLAAY Games. The results of the survey indicated a need for PLAAY to go younger, and invest time and effort into "preserving and advancing the grand pastime of table top sports board games" so that the hobby can continue on with a new generation of sports gamers. The survey results showed that to be a daunting task. But, a look-back at 2017 suggests that we are perhaps making some headway. I'm particularly encouraged that there are a growing number of kids in the PLAAY sphere. At both the Atlanta and Seattle events, we had kids playing games right along with the adults. PLAAY Gamers Eric Lutzker and Dan Van Antwerp—both teachers by profession—launched after-school programs for kids to play HISTORY MAKER BASEBALL, and we made some new young fans. This is an area where I believe it's crucial that growth continue. If you have any thoughts/ideas here, please let me know. I am happy to support any initiatives similar to Dan's and Eric's that you might want to launch at your local school.

After the survey results were in, I said that I was setting aside work on my planned Cold Snap update (as well as shelving development of possible basketball and horse racing games) in order to work on games that might appeal to a younger demographic. And then—lo and behold—Cold Snap 4.0 was released in November! What gives?

Well, actually, I DID spend the first few months of 2017 working on non-sports games. I laid groundwork for two sci-fi games, both loosely based on movies: "Cowboys and Aliens," and "Galaxy Quest." (note the common theme, light-hearted rather than heavy-handed.) I took both game ideas (they really aren't finished games at this point) to local game conventions in March, and got a lukewarm response. By the end of May—I have to be honest—I wasn't "feelin' it" with these games. As I've shared with some, maybe I just don't have the chops to do non-sports games, I don't know. I also invested a good number of design hours to two other games—sports-themed games that are "games" rather than simulations, designed for the millennial crowd that's recently become enamored with board games as sort of a novelty, different from the video games culture they were born into. (Insert irony here.) I feel that I had more success with these efforts. One game finished runner-up (by a tenth of a point) in a game convention design contest in September! I'm keeping these game ideas under wraps—for now!

In any case, it seemed clear to me by summer that 2017 wasn't going to have the big non-sports or younger demo game design breakthrough that I had hoped for. So, borrowing from Bum Phillips' philosophy of "dancin' with who brung ya," I went back to working on the Cold Snap update and got it done in time for the Grey Cup. I'm really pleased and proud of the results, although I am still not sure I did the best thing, long-term, by going there.

As I think back on 2017, probably the first thing that comes to mind is—GOLF. The golf game was the story of PLAAY's year, for sure. I'm so grateful for the positive response to the game, I can't even begin to express it. I've told a number of folks that if I'd known there was such interest in golf, I would have started working on a golf game years ago, haha!

The second thing that comes to mind are the fun times we had at the 2017 live events. "Hockey Day in Canada" was just EPIC, there's no other way to describe it. The Time Machine Tournament weekend in Denver was awesome, starting with the tailgate party at PLAAY HQ, all the way to the Rockies game at Coors Field the following evening. Fun, fun, fun. Hanging out with Hal Richman at the SABR Conference in New York City, and having the privilege of presenting HMB to a room full of baseball board game fans—amazing. And there were great times in Atlanta and Seattle as well, all chronicled on the community page of the website.

So, what's in store for 2018?

Well, there's no new game in the pipeline to replicate 2017's golf experience, but I have put together another active schedule of live events and card set releases...

The highlight of the Live Events schedule is our first-ever "convention," PLAAY-dot-CON, happening in July. (Local gamer Jason Retallack came up with the name "PLAAY-dot-CON," my wife hates it, she thinks it should just be "PLAAY CON." Whatever.) You can read more about PLAAY-dot-CON here. It will be our most ambitious live event ever, with the goal being to have as many PLAAY Games as possible represented with its own segment during the three days of the con. I don't expect a huge number of attendees for this event, maybe 25-30. I am totally okay with that—my focus is going to be on quality of the event rather than quantity of guests. We can grow it later. In addition, there'll be live events in Charlotte (golf, March), Dallas (baseball, September) and Pittsburgh (hockey, November). Details to come!

It will also be another busy year of product releases, there's a 2018 release schedule in the December newsletter. In reviewing 2017's release schedule, I noticed that there were a couple discrepancies—a couple card sets that I didn't release, and a couple others that WERE released, but which weren't listed on the schedule. That's sort of the nature of this business, there's a definite fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants mentality required here. Which is why I'm not posting the schedule on-line this year! Again, I want to stress that the product release schedule in the newsletter is tentative!

In addition, I'm going to try to expand my video-streaming presence, which I believe is a key plank in the marketing strategy moving forward. October's "All Hallows Eve" webcast, where I traveled to Boston to do a live show with AFR's Steve Tower, was awesome! We had a live audience ranging from 40 to 50 viewers, over 1,400 total views and a Facebook reach of over 13,000. Steve and I have agreed to think about expanding this to TWO live streaming shows in 2018, starting with a webcast that's going to happen at the end of April, in addition to the "All Hallows Eve" webcast, which we are also tentatively planning on doing again. I'm also going to launch a three-month pilot program of mid-month video live Facebook streams to further connect further with the community. My plan is that these would be 30-minute live webcasts, sort of like "press conferences" (for lack of a better descriptor). They would begin with a few minutes of news and information, possibly a quick demo or showcase of something I'm working on, and then I'd field questions via the Facebook "live chat" window. I'm thinking I will do this the third Monday of each month, so the first installment of this series will happen Monday evening, January 15th, 6 PM Mountain Time, 8 PM Eastern. After the third installment, I'll review and see if it's something worth continuing, and if so, how frequently.

One other thing I want to mention is also in regard to social media. For almost twenty years now, the Delphi Forums have been the place for sports board gamers to meet, post results, and exchange ideas. But that's rapidly changing, with Facebook taking over as the platform of choice. It's a no-brainer, as Facebook is superior in so many ways: you can post photos and videos, files (with no space limit), you can easily set up surveys and other socially-interactive tools, the "like" button allows you to affirm/recognize posts without having to think of something to say, and you can get notifications sent your phone when someone posts something, allowing for more timely responses and faster-moving discussions. Plus Facebook is FAR more vigilant about spammers than Delphi is. I bring this up because, like a lot of gamers, I'm finding myself spending less time on Delphi and more time on Facebook. I think this trend will accelerate in 2018. PLAAY Games has two Facebook pages, and I encourage you to connect with them if you haven't already. The PLAAY Games Company page offers information on card sets, game releases, live events and other game news. The PLAAY Games Community page is totally gamer-oriented and is THE place to go for photos, posts, downloads and idea exchange about games and season play-throughs being conducted by the community. It requires approval to join, the better to ensure that it's a good experience for everyone. It's one of the friendliest places on the internet, and I hope to see you there in 2018.

Whew! That was a lot. As my kids and their friends like to say, "So...[pause]...yeah." It's going to be another busy year! Thanks in advance for being part of it! Hope to see you somewhere in 2018, either online or in-person!