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Krakow or Bust

November 2, 2008

Peter Struijf's vivid, engaging, and evocative writing style has captured the attention of many BGG users over the past week, but just in case you've missed his posts in the avalanche of new forum posts each day, I thought I'd group them all together here. Peter founded Geode Games to self-publish his game Krakow 1325 AD, and he visited the recent Essen game fair to promote it. Peter is now writing a series of articles about his awe-inspiring experiences at Essen. I've found these articles to be some of the most interesting and enjoyable writing on BGG in recent memory and thought I'd highlight them here to call your attention to them. They're humorous and light-hearted, yet thoughtful and poignant at times (which is eerily analogous to the artist's drawing style and the flavor text of the cards in the game).

For more information check out the rules PDF, the publisher's website, the website of the artist Melchior van Rijn, the Boardgame News Preview by W. Eric Martin, and the game's image gallery. Without further ado, enjoy the writings of Peter Struijf, which have prompted BGG users to suggest that he switch from a budding career in board game design to a career in writing novels!

Part 1: Facts and Fable


"Once upon a time there was a small ant - an industrious and resilient little creature, full of energy - but in particular: very, very small.

The ant went walking and met an elephant. The elephant is a beautiful creature, full of memories and a gentle character - but in particular: very, very large.

The elephant stepped on the ant and then tried to do a circus trick: standing on one leg. Unfortunately, the one with the ant underneath. After the trick, the elephant walked away. The ant was still alive and had learned a lot, although he had not seen much of the circus trick.

I was the ant. Spiel 08 was the elephant." -- Click here to read the full article...

Part 2: D-Day


"Suddenly I understood how those poor GI's in their landing craft approaching Omaha Beach must have felt on 6 June 1944. This is It. This is the day. No more escaping, no more joking around. Within a few long minutes from now, I could be lying face down in the sand watching the Highlights Show of my Life on the Way Out. This heavy flamethrower on my back could come in handy at the bunker line, but it could also help incinerate me instantly before I reach them....where is my helmet ! where is my helmet! Oh thank God it is on my head! ... OK, so there I am, hitting my own D-Day beach at 0900 on Thursday ... 0945: three middle-aged, friendly looking men approach my stand, wearing green 'press' badges. They seem quite determined and prepared to take me on. One of them says: 'Are you Peter?' ... Ramp Down. Splash into the cold salty water." -- Click here to read the full article...

Part 3: Baptism of Fire


"At the end of the game, Blue Eyes says they want to buy a copy and ask me to sign it for them, which is quite an amazing question. I never signed anything but the Purchase Orders, the Requisitions and the Exit Interview Sheets.

Signing their copy of the game... wow that is exciting. The big blank space of the inside cover opens up before me, I have a pen or marker in hand. What to write? Suddenly I realise this game here, played by these three friendly determined youngish middle aged customers and myself, is the first game ever played with the real, actual and final stuff from the box. I tell them this, explaining I only saw the game for the first time the day before, and carefully dedicate my message to Blue Eyes: You played the first game and lost!" -- Click here to read the full article...

Part 4: Bag Men


"I was pretty sure I had one very real customer: Mark from South Africa. He had strings attached by now - after his pre-order email we communicated in several long emails about how on earth we would get the game from Holland/Essen to South Africa at a reasonable cost. My wife is from Zimbabwe, I have visited South Africa many times and know some people, my former work colleagues travel there for work - so the range of options was tremendous. Our plans had almost hatched to the complexity level of a minor bank heist (his uncle's off-duty night nurse would drive the green van to the back of the Nando's, where the workmate of my sister-in-law would hand her the ringer, while the real game would be hidden behind a blossoming Jacaranda tree in Melville by the former atomic scientist in the orange jumper)."

"Down the corridor of stands strides an unusual figure. A young or not-so-young man, carrying or dragging a very large bag, which appears empty. The Bag Man acts agitated, stressed or in a large hurry. Sweat shines on his forehead and he is taking big steps ... The Bag Man looks at me ... Bag Man fumbles in a large wallet, colourful notes change hands, the two games boxes are handed to him. He barely looks at the box at all, but quickly unzips/unfolds/inflates or otherwise opens the Bag. I peep inside (I have read a bit of Pratchett, I know it is risky, but I need to see this). There is already a pile of 5-6 boardgames inside. The Kraków boxes quickly join their fellow games at the Bag Man's skilled hands. Bag Man closes the bag, marks or crosses out some line on his excel sheet, bites his lip in thought and sets off at a trot down the corridor. The whole thing lasted less than 30 seconds. I sold two boardgames to a complete stranger. He ran off with them, into an unknown future and towards unknown destinies. I can only guess which country he is from, which foreign lands he will travel, and where these two games might end up. Is the Bag Man someone's Associate, Helpmeet or Trusted Butler? Is he a Civilian Contractor. We will never know. He is Bag Man. He Roams the Universe..." -- Click here to read the full article...

Part 5: The Reviewers


"What are my expectations? I really am at sea. I know these are the Big Reviewers, these guys and girl might crush me and my game underfoot, leaving just some wreckage and a 'foreclosed' sign. But they seem so nice... and almost just regular boardgamers. Am I naive, AGAIN? Are they really a Pack of Wolves, roaming the wastelands of Essen to kill off the weak, the old and the weary? That would be very healthy for the ecosystem, I am sure, but how much one can appreciate this valuable role depends quite heavily on one's own part in nature's little drama. Just after we sit down, there is the first really great surprise. These guys have all read and understood the entire downloaded rules. They are ready to play. Scratch the dreaded 20 minutes of stammering and sweating, in which one part of my brain laughs madly at another, firing off angry brainwaves that cackle: But You Made The &^%* Game So How Come I Can Not Say The Right Words!!" -- Click here to read the full article...

Part 6: At Essen’s Gates / Hungarian Interlude


"Unloading at Spiel is a serious business, which requires thorough preparation. Basically, each exhibitor must bring his own cart or trolley to get his goods and stand materials into the halls. There is a lovely little irony here: a stand holder can rent a little metal hook to hang your little poster, but you cannot rent a trolley or pushcart to move your heavy boxes full of games across the 200 meter distance from the parking lot, into the halls to your stand. The major stand holders (Big Fish) are obviously fully equipped: some even bring industrial type forklifts.

Most of the small fry (like me) however are totally unprepared, which leads to a dazzling array of improvised solutions. On Wednesday night, marauding bands of desperate stand holders swarmed out all over the grounds and grabbed hold of anything on wheels, which might carry their precious goods to their stands. It was fortunate that no old lady riding an electric wheelchair wandered into those dark grounds that night: I can assure you that the berserk exhibitors would have ambushed her, thrown her in the shrubbery and raced off with her precious set of wheels." -- Click here to read the full article...

Part 7: The Icelanders, the Krakovians & Night Poetry


"Around lunchtime on Friday, the Geode Team is boosted by the arrival of three fresh sets of hands: the artist Melchior and both our wives (we both have one wife, and they are both there, I mean)."

"It seemed some folks were just doing the rounds all over the fair to collect free games in return for their business cards and a tall tale. I remember distinctly how I stood in the corridor, watching the tall blonde Icelander disappear into the crowd, carrying his discount copy of my game. I stared blankly at his business card, which said: Leif Sonofagonarsson, Editor and Chief Executive Officer, South East Icelandic Annual Boardgame, Magazine for the Visually Impaired. I wondered if this club or magazine could really have the 12.5 million members or subscribers Leif had just told me about. He sounded pretty convincing. Like he had practised at home first and then tried it out on a good number of publishers today..."

"Kraków Blues part 4: How to live happily and be fabulously successful in everything you do - Be nice to yourself. Lower your expectations." -- Click here to read the full article...

Part 8: Saturday, The Outing of Families


"My testosterone also wants to say something. It says: Wanna play a game without luck? Wanna be a tough guy? Wanna sit down for 9 hours straight for a single game against just one opponent? Wanna push your brain to the very limits of its mathematical and analytical capacity? Why don't you step into my world then: there's Grenadier, the German open ASL tournament, in two weeks time. I'll be waiting..."

Testosterone is a really silly thing, isn't it? It just makes a lot of noise, beats its chest and turns water to steam for no real purpose. All it really wants is a hug and to be told 'you don't have to eat your Brussels sprouts' and 'yes you can play with your Playmobil even though it is already late'... and it's right as rain." -- Click here to read the full article...

Part 9: The Final Stretch


"Another prime example of Essen Exhaustion faces us at 1600: the start of the last demo game of Spiel 2008 for Geode Games. Our customers are three Dutchmen and a Belgian, all members of boardgame clubs. They have been at Essen for days on end, have played and bought a lot of new games and are also reaching the bottoms of their barrels. As they sit down, it looks as if they couldn't care less what the game may be all about: all they want is to have a chair to sit on for an hour or two. These guys would probably not object to playing a game of Russian Roulette right now ... I do understand these guys: if you come to Essen as a gamer for several days, it is a really exhausting experience. There is standing, queueing, waiting, carrying, dragging, buying, searching, trying to find your way in this maze, walking through crowds, trying to find your car in the parking garage, eating in snack joints and sleeping in hotel beds. The one thing totally unavailable in this entire spectacle called Essen, which offers all this space and an incredible variety of treats for the boardgame lover, is a place to sit down, rest your feet and have some peace for five minutes. And that is, after all, a fairly normal human need over a period of four days ... Fortunately, the Dutch and Belgian boardgamers find their energy after struggling through my last rules explanation. They actually play a pretty decent game and enjoy themselves, but when they get up to leave they say "That was our last game of Essen 2008!" and I hear their silent sigh of relief. I sigh as well: this is the end of me and my game's exposure to The Public at this fair. It has been an amazing experience, with really only positive things to take home and a lot of lessons about preparing and working at a boardgame fair. I survived my vertical learning curve, met lots and lots of really wonderful people, who made me feel a real sense of achievement and a priceless reward for all our efforts." -- Click here to read the full article...

Part 10: Pandemonium


"As soon as the last visitors have been herded out of the great halls, the whole place erupts in new, different noises. The entire scene reminds me strongly of the Lord of the Rings movies, when Saruman turns his peaceful vale into a massive arms workshop. Instead of the slow and weary footsteps of the public, one can now hear the determined sounds of engines, boots and machines. The friendly chatter of salespeople is replaced by the short orders of the foreman, the driver and the owner. Cars, forklifts and small trucks roar into the scene from all sides. Groups of people tear down their stands, load games into big boxes or onto pallets, load boxes and pallets into trucks and lorries. Little metal hooks are returned to the lending counter, where clerical books are now balanced. Entire walls and partitions made of cardboard and plywood disappear easily, leaving new and exciting vistas for all of us, who were now used to our safe little corridors. In stand 4-415, we of course join in this ritual cleansing ceremony." -- Click here to read the full article...

After Essen 1: The first-time publisher goes forth...


"During my student days, I had worked in a factory in the Rotterdam harbor for a few weeks, where I took part in the Bosnian war. We had re-packaged container loads of brown beans into 2-kg packets, which were then shipped to the hungry Bosnians ... It does place my last significant packing experience squarely at the late 1980’s. I hoped Alert would pack some punch when it came to packing, but was quickly disappointed: his first statement while looking at the pile of stuff was: 'I hope you know what to do with this, because I have never been very handy.' Bummer, those ASL friends, sometimes!"

"During the next five hours, Alert and I struggled and sweated, taped and wound, heaved and gripped, carried and loaded the boxes. Most of the work was done in the near-freezing corridor of our 'bicycle' cellar. Fortunately for Geode Games, my wife and I do not like cycling (which is a major cultural crime in this country, but we hide the fact)and we were happy to re-designate it 'games cellar' as it was now full of Kraków boxes. The corridor was just wide enough for the roll of bubbly plastic to be unwound. It took us an hour to figure out how to tape, wrap, strap and label the first two boxes. As the afternoon wore on, we became a well-oiled, confident little team. By the time we had stuck the final label on the last game four hours later, we were ready to start a removal company." -- Click here to read the full article...

Beyond Essen 2: The self-publisher goes forth...


"After Essen, we had a much better idea what to expect. No more ridiculous, childish daydreams about building a pretty stand, waving graciously and smiling a Kodak smile at the passers-by. We knew the Laws of the Boardgame Convention Jungle: we would face an experienced and critical audience, the Owners of many games, recently appraised of The Essen Hits, maybe even Geeks themselves. Although not comparable to Essen, these gamers still entered a landscape filled with opportunities in Zwolle. A landscape also roamed by our competitors, flying their intimidating banners of Galaxy Trucker, Dominion and Cuba. Only this time, we also knew the drill." -- Click here to read the full article...

Boardgame Design - Krakow 1325 AD: A Creative Journey

Peter Struijf visited the Google offices in New York City on December 1, 2009 and gave an hour long talk on boardgame design entitled Krakow 1325 AD: A Creative Journey. A video of his talk has been posted on YouTube and is well worth watching, especially if you're a fan of the game or interested in the process that went into designing the game.

(See this GeekList for this article plus additional comments on it)