BLOG: Tell me about the house you built, not tools you used

As we are preparing for Essen, this is a good time for some piece of advice straight from the heart and mind of Ignacy…

Essen is close. Publishers get a few submissions every day. The show is the perfect opportunity for young designers – they come for 4 days and have a chance to pitch prototype to tens of different publishers. Chances that you’ll find a publisher for your game are as high as they ever could be. This is your time. This is the opportunity window.

There are two main problems though.

First of all – there is an army of other designers. I am serious. There is an army of young designers pitching games at Essen. Your game must be outstanding.

And the other one problem. Your sales pitch sucks.


It’s a worker placement area control game about the mafia. It uses the basic mechanism of set collection – players must complete different sets of resource cards in order to complete jobs and earn VP. The game has a unique twist in the scoring system. At the end of each round players loose all Victory Points, unless they used special ability to save them.

That’s an average pitch I receive. I am serious. That’s how you pitch games to me. You say Worker placement. Area control. Set collection. A unique twist. Over and over again the same. Keywords that seem to open every door.

In a fact they shut the door for you.


I have this analogy I always present at my Game Designer Workshops – designing a game is like building a house. Game is a house. Game mechanisms are tools. You use worker placement or deckbuilding like you’d use a hammer and saw. You take a bit of set collection like you’d take wood and nails. You have player special powers like you’d have special paint that can be easily washed in the kids’ room.

When you finish your house, you will invite your friends and you will present the amazing outcome. Here is our kitchen, bright and warm with this huge windows. Here we have fireplace – in the winter we’ll play board games next to it. And here are stairs to our attic bedroom…

You’d never say something like – here is our kitchen, I used white paint on the walls and we used this awesome hammer set to put windows in the wall. We also used an automatic screwdriver and glue gun to put firehouse in that wall and those stairs – we build them using 8 inches long nails. Can you imagine?!

I am serious.
Don’t pitch me tools.
Pitch me the house.


Robinson Crusoe is not a deck building cooperative game. Robinson Crusoe is a survival game, where players are thrown in the deadly environment and struggle to fulfill goals in 6 unique scenarios.

Imperial Settlers is not a worker placement card game. Imperial Settlers is a card game in which you command one of four unique factions and build your Empire by planting woods and fields, mining stone and gold and building tens of different buildings.

Please, understand – the mechanisms, are just a tools. They are not the game. You use them to build the game.

You haven’t designed worker placement game.
You have designed [super-freaking-awesome] game and you used worker placement mechanism.


To sum up. Instead of that way:
It’s a worker placement area control game about the mafia. It uses the basic mechanism of set collection – players must complete different sets of resource cards in order to complete jobs and earn VP. The game has a unique twist in the scoring system. At the end of each round players loose all Victory Points, unless they used special ability to save them.

Talk to me that way:
In this game, you are a head of the family and you work for the don. You’ll send your people to different districts to try to control all businesses in the area. You have more people in the district than other players? It’s your district then! Get free stuff each time any player pays a visit to one of the businesses in this area.

In this game, players will send their people to particular businesses – like stores or laundry to get goods. Players can do Shake business action to get money. To get guns. To get booze. Whatever the business has. Shake them, get stuff.

In this game, you need stuff in order to get jobs done. There is a lot of things to do. Kill other people. Buy other people. Get their stuff. Each time you get the job done, you get money. The money goes to don unless you are smart enough and hide it.

Take control over districts. Get stuff. Get jobs done. Get money. Hide money. Win.

Original post is from Board Games That Tell Stories blog on BGG:

6 Comments Added

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  1. Jordan Sorenson 2017-10-12 | Reply

    I actually will be attending BGGCon2017, and I believe I saw your name on the exhibitor list. I know your time is limited, but if you have a short spot of time available, I’d love to go over a game with you guys. Here is a snap pitch of the game so you guys can determine if it’s worth your time:

    Master of the Eras is a game where players are thrown into a world and tasked to make history. Civilizations will grow and exert their strength onto a strategic landscape by choosing a unique development path that bolsters their economic and military agency all throughout the game. Although some civilizations may flourish in splendor early on, players can bide their time to make an end game push that will leave their prideful enemies stunned in disbelief. Great monuments will be erected, cities of gold hotly contested, powerful technologies will be diffused across the land, and machinations of war will be perfected and deployed into glorious battle.

    Whether it’s aggressively negotiating territorial lines, becoming a hub for technological innovation, or laying out the infrastructure to become a cultural and economic powerhouse, Master of the Eras gives players the tools to build a memorable civilization experience that will have them engaged from start to finish. Overcoming the challenges of accessibility, snowballing, and long downtimes, Master of the Eras strives to be the premiere civilization experience for the average strategy gamer looking to spend an evening with friends shaping the world as they see fit.

  2. Jordan Sorenson 2017-10-11 | Reply

    A very interesting read, Ignacy. Telling a good story is a very strong way to get players deeply connected to a game, so it definitely makes sense that your pitch should reflect that. Speaking of which, is there a preferred channel Portal Games prefers to receive pitches?

    • portal 2017-10-12 | Reply

      There are many ways that you can pitch us your game, none is really preferred. If you prepare a comprehensive presentation that you can send us via e-mail and post us your prototype, that is certainly a good way. Events are always very busy, so there is less time for everything but it’s always better to meet face to face.

  3. Jose Juan 2017-10-08 | Reply

    Hi. Months ago I made an order and I did not get what I asked for. It took me 2 months from now to ask me to send the right thing. You always answer that you feel it and that you will, but you do not send me anything.

    I would like a solution, no more sorry.

    • portal 2017-10-09 | Reply

      Hello – our customer service contacted you about this issue directly. You should receive your order soon.

      • Jose Juan 2017-10-16 | Reply

        I’ve been complaining for 2 months and the answer is always the same: “Sorry, we’ll send it shortly.” But you have not sent me anything and I have asked for the tracking number several times without any response. I feel cheated.

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We are bookworms. Movie maniacs. Story addicts. We grew up reading Tolkien, Howard, Herbert, Dick, Lem… We were watching Willow, Blade Runner, Never Ending Story, Robin Hood…

And yet, we don’t write books… we don’t make movies. We don’t make those things, because we make games. We make games that tell stories.

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