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  • Writer's pictureThomas Cardwell

Dragonflight 2021 Convention Recap

It's been a while! (Cue the cast of Critical Role).

I've been up to many things over the past year, including more playtesting of my first game, Element of Surprise. A job change and a move certainly slowed things down, but I've begun playtesting again and had the opportunity to go to my first convention, Dragonflight Gamecon 41! Dragonflight is a non-profit that hosts an annual tabletop/board game convention in Bellevue, Washington (just across the water from my fair city). Usually it's in August, but this time it was pushed to Halloweekend 2021.

Cleaning up after a playtest of Element of Surprise at Dragonflight Gamecon.

I had the chance to go as part of a playtesting group I joined last year, PlaytestNW. They are an organization that puts on events at local board game shops like Mox Ballard, allowing game designers in the Pacific Northwest region to share their games with the local gaming community. PlaytestNW also has relationships with various gaming conventions, from the more-regional Dragonflight to the internationally-attended PAX West, and invites their design members to playtest at their distinctive yellow-covered tables.

My Takeaways

Connecting with other designers is fantastic

This is one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to go to my very first gaming convention. I got to playtest a few of my fellow designers' games after my own playtesting slots for Element of Surprise, and was able to chat with designers working on boatloads of games of varied genre and states of completion. That kind of creative zeal paired with an openness to feedback is very energizing. Perhaps I'll do some interviews for the blog featuring some of the designers I met.

Element of Surprise is fun!

I had concerns about taking a social game, one with many mechanics for messing with other people's stuff, to a convention where people would be playtesting with strangers. All told, the game received positive feedback and I observed some very promising interactions that validated some of my design. Even amongst strangers, folks seem to be pretty willing to accept the "Take that!" parts of the game when they happen early and often.

There is still work to be done

Despite having playtested Element of Surprise many times, I haven't had the opportunity for a bunch of in-person playtests. I feel the game really shines in-person and it was wonderful to show it off, but I did get some great feedback that helped confirm something I've been concerned about for a bit; there are too many strategy elements for a party game and too many party game elements for a strategy game. For example, there are many mechanics in a turn that exist in heavier games—you pay the cost of a card, you receive 1-2 effects (gain elements, draw cards, steal elements, etc.), and potentially elicit a third effect if it is the first time you play a card. There's also a card type that reacts to opponents' moves outside of your turn. This adds up to a lot of components that require more focus than in most laid-back party games.

I'm calling the game a social strategy card game because there are plenty of elements of social interaction and strategy, but decreasing some of the unnecessary complexity while maintaining the strategic elements is my next design challenge.


All in all, the convention was a success! Getting to know some other designers, picking up constructive feedback, and getting my game out there was very worthwhile. I'll be rearing to go for the next convention on my list (Emerald City Comic-Con). Until next time!


Fun Games of the Week:

  • The Crew, a cooperative trick-taking game with amusing translations for the story's flavor text.

  • Honey Heist, a hilarious micro-RPG by Grant Howitt where players are bears trying to steal honey.

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