The Unpublished Games Network, more commonly known as Unpub, is a community of individuals and companies involved in the board game industry working together to create new and better board games. This includes artists, designers, publishers, and retailers as well as the playtesters, that help narrow down what works and what doesn’t within the game.
Unpub has most of its core constituents located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, encompassing Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. That doesn’t limit their reach to just those handful of states though. At the last convention, Unpub 8 held in Hunt Valley, Maryland, I interacted with people traveling in from New Jersey, Michigan, and Missouri.
Unpub 8, which took place March 22nd through the 25th, was free to the public. You could just walk in and start playing games starting that Friday at 3 pm (EST). There were VIP tickets for early playtesting available for $25 that also granted you access to a mixer and the panel discussions. Joining the network does not require a fee or a membership, just a passion for all things board game and an email address.
We have attended Unpub for the last four years. Three in downtown Baltimore City and the last one in Hunt Valley, Maryland. It has been absolutely phenomenal how they’ve grown in the years we’ve been attending and I am really glad that the move to out of the city did not hurt attendance in any visible way.
The event is well-organized and staffed with volunteers. There is ample room to maneuver through the vast sea of conference tables and most developers limit their games to either a few rounds or an hour (or less!), just so you get a feel for it. Then you will answer some questions and give them candid feedback about their game.
The most important part is the candid feedback. I have provided constructive criticism to a few games and never had a bad experience with a developer not appreciating my time or my thoughts (not that I’m the end-all, be-all expert or anything).
From Friday to Sunday, I spent my time playtesting unpublished games (from ventures that are gearing up for a Kickstarter run, such as Moonshot; to expansions for well-established games, such as Stockpile; to brand new endeavors from brand new developers, like Dawn of an Empire) and providing the developers with constructive criticism about what we liked, what we didn’t like, why we did what we did, and so on.
To me, it is an absolute blast. Last year I got to play the new hotness that was Dinosaur Island before its Kickstarter run wrapped up that let me decide if the game was for me and also helped the developer finish any final touches they had regarding the game.
Interacting with so many people also introduces yourself to new games of the published variety. There is typically a vendor selling games at discount so you can add some more items to your collection. Due to Unpub 8 this year, we ended up picking up a copy of C.O.G., which is a worker placement/crossword puzzle game that is unlike anything else in our collection. In previous years, we’ve picked up a nice party deduction game in Deception: Murder in Hong Kong and Trajan, a Stefan Feld game that utilizes a mancala.
Depending on how many days you attend and how many games you play, you can be mentally fatigued by the end of your time there. Learning the rules for ‘x’ number of games back-to-back-to-back is daunting. I enjoy the mental gymnastics but was absolutely fried by Sunday.
I was able to play so many games this past weekend and I’m going to try and capture them all, but for sure there will be some postings soon regarding Faza, Moonshot, Picky Eaters, and the Stockpile action card expansion. I will have write-ups for all of these under the First Look tab shortly.