From Heaven through Hell to Purgatory

In the previous blog post, I wrote about my perception of last year and how I will recall 2017 from the point of board games industry. There was one word — Kickstarter. The platform and its releases got super strong this past year, and Gloomhaven reaching #1 spot in BGG ranking was a great summary of the whole great year.

Today I’d like to tell you about my personal perception of 2017 and my company — Portal Games. It was the most insane year in the history of the company and the most emotionally driven year for me in years. We had one major release — First Martians, but man, this one game truly offered us a ride to remember.


The year began with the biggest hype for the game I ever faced and one of the biggest in the whole industry. The message that Portal Games was doing ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars’ got somehow viral and got everybody excited. I saw it only once before — when Z-Man announced Pandemic Legacy. That was that level of hype.

I remember me flying to Vegas for GAMA Trade show and talking with distributors and retailers and trying to lower the hype. We even have one of these meetings recorded — I present the game and I say it over and over again — it is just a eurogame.

But the hype was there and it was out of the control. The more I talked about the game, the hype went higher. It was pointless.

On one hand, it was the best months of my designer career — my design was hot, everybody talked about it, I was so proud. I was designer of one of the most anticipated games in the whole industry. Quite the feeling. On the other hand, I knew I was screwed. It was impossible to meet the expectations, and the more I tried to lower the hype, the worse it got, the hype went up and up with every interview.

I remember this one evening in Niagara. It was in April, we were in the restaurant — me, JF, Matt Leacock, Rob Daviau and more friends. Somebody asked me how I feel about First Martians being that hot and if I am happy that everybody talks about the game. I remember precisely that moment, every second of that jiff. I said: ‘I am terrified’ and in that split second, I saw Rob Daviou nodding with his head. I looked at him and we had this super short, intimate moment of pure understanding. We both knew it. Rob was there with Pandemic Legacy, he was there with Seafall. Hype is awesome, but at some point it is terrifying. At some point, it’s just a pure fear.


And then the hell began. The game was pre-released and the first feedback was very bad. Players had no clue how to play the game, the app had some problems, the rulebook apparently was a one big issue, and on top of that the game was too complex and got — in many cases — in the hands of people who jumped on the hype train, ordered the game without knowing what to expect and then hit the wall. Poor rulebook, very complex rules — the first date with First Martians was not that sexy as everybody expected. ‘I hate this game’, ‘The biggest disappointment of 2017’ threads were all over the BGG. I was devastated.

It was the hell. 3 years of hard work, designing 16 unique missions, hundreds of event cards, and nobody even talked about the game. The whole discussion was on the app, on poor the rulebook, on all other things. Of course, there were players who complained about gameplay, there were people who complained the theme is boring, but overall, the discussion was all about the ruleset, not the gameplay itself. It was clear that Ignacy publisher failed Ignacy designer.

It was probably the most miserable 3 months of my life. Everyday somebody was complaining about First Martians. New rules questions threads pop up every day. It was a horrible time for me, but I kept working. I answered every rule question on BGG. I responded to every tweet about the First Martians. I flew to Gencon and did my best promoting the game. And at Gencon, something very awkward happened. A ton, and by saying a ton, I mean like more than 20 or 30 people every day approached me and congratulated me First Martians. ‘It’s a great game. Don’t read what they say on the Internet. I play it and I love it. The rulebook is not the best, but the game is awesome, thank you Ignacy.’

I had no clue what was going on. I was tired, I was confused, I just wanted First Martians to have never happened in my life. The feedback I was getting there, on the floor of the convention was super confusing.

I came back to Poland, and I kept working. I motivated my team to do their best to support the game even stronger. We released a brand new mission to the game. We released new event cards. We released First Martians Almanac PDF. We worked our asses as hard as possible.

And then, a few weeks later I finally walked out from the hell. I deserved to step into purgatory.


Today, when you browse the Internet you’ll find in most cases only good feedback about the game. I browse Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook each day checking #FirstMartians hashtag and absolutely most of the posts are positive, people enjoy the game and have a good or even a great time with it. No longer I am afraid to search for First Martians opinions.

It’s because of First Martians Almanac PDF?
It’s because customers who buy the game today are ready and prepared for the complex game?
It’s because there is a ton of content on BGG, with videos and threads helping people play the game?
It’s because the app has now tutorial mode?
Probably all of that I guess.

I dreamed and hoped to design the best game on the planet. Well, I designed the most controversial game of 2017, that’s for sure. I was in heaven, I was in hell, I am in purgatory now. First Martians did not meet the expectation of many players, but after all, it wasn’t that bad as people were saying in summer. It has a solid fan base. It has a ton of content in the box, it has more content in the app and it will get more content in 2018. Some people will put it as an example of the overhyped project. Some will put it on the table over and over playing all those missions I was designing for years.

Overall? I learned a lot. 
Overall? I definitely deserve a year of vacations after this insane ride.
Overall? I wish you a great time with the game. It’s complex, it’s hard but on top of that, it’s a pretty good game. I am sorry I disappointed some of you. I am happy, reading that some other enjoy the game. Thank you.