The Noble Art of Demoing – Extended Edition…

Or the Directors Cut, ‘Special’ Edition or whatever they call making you watch the same thing again with a few bits added in for no clearly definable reason…However this isn’t like that at all…admittedly I’ve published the core of this article before on my own blog but since then I’ve had a some additional experiences that make the original worth expanding upon and I’m going to do so…

I popped into my FLGS a few weeks ago in order to pick up a box of toys. That was actually an early preview copy of the Prodos Games Imperial Starter Set and a unit called the ‘Golden Lions‘ originally I was sworn to secrecy about this but considering they sold bout a bazillion boxes of them at Salute 2014 I figure it’s not much of a secret any-more, lol. Effectively these were advance payment for my demoing help at the aforementioned Salute event which is why I mention them now…

Painted by Martin Jennens of Titan Games…not me…you can tell by the fact that they’re actually done well…

While I was there the manager asked me if I’d run through a quick demo of Prodos Games Mutant Chronicles Resurrection game for a gentleman in the store who had expressed in interest which quickly turned into a demo for three gentlemen, lol. As I have a tendency to pour over the rulebooks for the systems that interest me I usually have a pretty decent knowledge of the rules of those systems which has meant that I get asked to demo game systems quite a lot and I’ve introduced a great many people to a wide variety of game systems over the years while doing so. However it’s took a while to get the hang of…

For those of you who aren’t aware I’m a ‘Henchman’ for Wyrd Games which means I do demo’s and events for them in return for the odd sneak preview and some free toys and am also currently doing something similar for Prodos’s Warzone system though they don’t formally have a system in place for it yet (I believe they’ll be called ‘Doomtroopers’ when an official system is created). Privateer Press and Mantic Games both have similar groups of people (called Pressgangers and Pathfinders respectively I think) and I’m guessing that other manufacturers do as well (Wizards of the Coast certainly do but I’ve no idea what they call themselves). Entry requirements vary for these semi-official roles but none of the ones that I’m aware of give anything that could even vaguely be called ‘demo training’…

For some reason the demo classes were really popular…

Whether you’re doing it ‘officially’, as a favour for a store owner, a friend or just because you enjoy doing it there are certain things that I’ve learned over the years that I’d like to share with you. I’m in no way saying that mine is the only way…it just seems to work well for me is all…

Be Prepared.
In situations such as the ‘ambush demo’ I mention above it’s unlikely that you’ll have everything you need to hand in the same way you would if you were planning a demo (either one on one or as an event) but hopefully in those situations you can scrape by with what you have to hand but if you know you’re going to be demoing then having all the necessary accoutrements with you is the first stage of making the demo look professional. The actual specifics will vary from game system to game system but the basics remain the same.

Some models…
These needn’t be two perfectly balanced bazillion points apocalypse scale armies in order to get your point across. I tend to have two small, characterful (and painted) forces available for the system I’m demonstrating and generally select ones that embody the style of that said system.

Generally for Malifaux I use Seamus, the Mad Hatter Vs. Lady Justice as they’re two iconic Malifaux characters with simple to explain back stories and between them they cover much of the games basic mechanics. For Warzone I use Dark Legion against another force as they’re the systems ‘bad guys’ though what I use against them varies based on what I think the prospective recipient is going to enjoy though I default to Bauhaus or Capitol most times I know of others who prefer to use Mishima as it’s oriental theme is quite popular in many circles.

Obviously painted would be better though…

That ‘Good Vs. Evil’ idea is a useful benchmark and works for many systems as such games tend to capture the flavour of the system in question far better than something that looks like a training exercise. Systems with starter sets are ideal as this gives you access to ready made forces that are (generally) fairly well balanced and it’s also easy to point the person receiving the demo at the models you used should he be so impressed by your awesome skills that he immediately wants to buy one of everything. The quality and balance levels of some starter sets vary widely based on system so these still might need a bit of tweaking for an enjoyable intro game. The Malifaux ones are pretty good straight out of the box as are the Warmachine and Mutant Chronicles ones though the Games Workshop ones are terribly balanced from any point of view. I can’t speak for all other systems in this regard but I’m sure that they are a good starting point…I’m sure SinSynn will feel the need to mention Infinity at some point in the comments section but that particular system isn’t one I play so I can’t comment on it’s starter sets configurations…I’m sure he’ll have much to say on the subject however…

Additionally, if you’re demoing on behalf of a store or at an event of some kind it’s worth making sure that the models you’re using are available for purchase locally as nothing’s more disappointing than getting all excited about something and then not being able to acquire the models instantly. For example at Salute this weekend I was demoing with models from Warzone Resurrections ‘Imperial’ and ‘Dark Legion’ factions and coincidentally they were the ones that sold out first though the fact that much of the Imperial range was ‘pre-release’ may have had something to do with that rather than it being a reflection on my awesome powers of demoing…

The tools of the trade…
Few things break the flow of a demo quite like spending twenty minutes looking for a measuring tape or not being able to use a models abilities because you’ve forgot the appropriate stat cards or templates. I’m sure most people will wait politely while you desperately search for your dice but it doesn’t exactly create the impression of  professional at work, lol. Personally I have a number of small KR cases purchased from my FLGS Titan Games

…with all the bits and pieces for the relevant game system in them including all appropriate templates and with the demo forces I’m using neatly organised inside. There are other companies that do similar cases at a variety of costs including Battlefoam amongst many others. I just happen to like the KR ones and I have a larger bag from the same company that holds two of the above mentioned cardboard carriers that goes with me to pretty much every hobby situation. This is the one I use…

…though it may be overkill if all you’re taking is two starter sets, a measuring tape and some dice…

I’d also recommend actually putting things back in good order when you finish rather than having to do it later or misplacing something because you haven’t done it at all, lol. For the same reason I always have a quick run through of the necessary bits and pieces because you’d be amazed how often a tape measure, set of dice or cards or even whole Malifaux crews get ‘borrowed’ and not returned…You’ll even do it to yourself sometimes…That may seem like a lot of work but in actual fact you’re saving yourself effort in the long run by knowing where everything is and being prepared. I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as making yourself a check-list but I do know of people who do. Those companies whose game systems include ‘Mini’ rulebooks are a great help in this regard.

Some of that may seem to be in the ‘stating the obvious’ category but I once turned up at an event where there were two representatives of an up and coming game company (that shall remain nameless) where neither of them had bought anything with them presuming that either the other one was going to or that there would be the necessary items at the location. To be fair though this isn’t actually that uncommon an issue especially at big events where other things may have taken priority in the minds of the organisers (stuff to sell most likely) so to be safe I always make sure I have everything I need and at the very worst this just means you’ll have more accessories than required which I can say from personal experience is much better than having none at all…..

The sand castle building competition was completely ruined as no-one had thought to bring a bucket and spade with them…..

Though not necessary for the demo itself I’d also keep a handy snack and a convenient drink with you as I’ve been at several events where getting away for an period of time was tricky in the extreme. Though this is a nice situation to be in knowing that the system and/or your demo’s are so popular that there’s a queue to receive them from a personal view ‘dying of malnutrition’ or ‘collapsing due to dehydration’ is slightly more commitment than I’m willing to give to a game of toy soldiers…


The Demo Itself…
I rarely demo games using the full officially recommended playing area unless that area is small anyway (Deadzone is a good example) or where the playing area is essential for the running of the game (Dreadball, Guild Ball or similar ‘pitch’ style games). In all other cases I use a smaller area (rarely more than 2′ by 2′) as on a larger game area you tend to get a somewhat uninteresting turn one where everyone moves towards one another and that’s about it. There are some exceptions to this general rule though as games where the movement and manoeuvring is a much more important aspect of the whole game will need this area covered in more detail (Star Trek : Attack Wing and Star Wars : X-Wing spring to mind) but generally you’ll want to get stuck into the action as soon as possible.

Unless you’re going to be demoing ‘noughts and crosses’ or ‘rock, paper, scissors’ then there’s most likely a back story involved in your game system and even with the shiny new ones this is probably quite detailed. Though an overview of the systems ‘story’ will help add depth to the demo there’s no need to attempt to relay the entire history of the Imperium, Mantica, Malifaux, a detailed account of the Corporation Wars or the parallel universe that the game is set in to the recipient of the demo. Most people will either take the effort to explore this aspect of the game themselves or not as the case may be and don’t need the first twenty minutes of the demo to be an explanation of why that guys hat logo is a slightly different shade of green to the persons standing next to him.

A portal has been opened to a parallel dimension where magic works, necromancy is rife and strange steampunk technology is commonplace” or “In the far future corporations have replaced countries and there careless explorations have unlocked an ancient evil..” though fairly generic and cliché will do for the most part. This is something you’ll obviously have to play by ear but in my personal opinion less is more in this case and if the person having the demo really wants to know the motivations of his force then I’m sure they’ll ask as you go along. The point of a demo is really to get the ‘feel’ of the game across to the player or players and make sure they have fun though gauging what aspects of the game is going to best show this to the intended recipient is often a combination of experience and no small amount of guesswork and improvisation. Never be afraid to change the focus of the demo if the players are beginning to lose interest.

A few quick questions before the demo can help with this and  I generally use…”What game systems do you normally play?” as an opener and this will more often than not generate a fairly revealing conversation as we all love to talk about our favourite game systems when prompted. This may take up a bit of time before the demo starts but the additional information is well worth the effort and who knows…you might make some new friends as well…

“So tell me more about the forces of Chaos…”

The basics will do.
Covering every single aspect of the rule-book in a half an hour demo is pretty much impossible unless the system is so mind numbingly simple that a demo was probably unnecessary in the first place.

A basic idea of what each statistic does is always a good starting point though in a demo environment you’ll probably only need to be specific about Movement, Close Combat and Shooting stats as well as whatever the model uses to avoid dying (Toughness, Armour, Wounds, etc.) and any resource mechanic can be mentioned as well. Depending on the system you’re demoing you can often leave talk of those aforementioned resources till after you’ve done a turn or two of moving towards and then shooting or beating the hell out of each other. If the resource mechanic is a fundamental part of the game (Warmachines ‘Focus’ for example) then you’ll need to explain it’s most basic uses but try to keep it to the absolute minimum as “This is bloody complicated” is not the first impression that we want to give…

In a recent Warzone demo (for example) after a brief overview of the game and a look at the stats I did a turn of moving and shooting without talking about resources or modifiers at all and then I introduced Resource cards and their uses on turn two as well as talking about a few additional modifiers such as terrain and cover. During that turn I deliberately ignored certain things such as elevation and a few potential advanced Actions as the players were having fun shooting the crap out of each other and another layer of complication would have just slowed everything down. When turn three was in full swing it was simple to talk about some of the background and a bit more about the system as the two recipients of the demo had grasped the basics and no longer needed any prompting so the information being relayed to them didn’t detract (or distract) from the overall experience.

One of them bought a starter set after the game so it must have gone fairly well, lol.

I don’t have a picture of the actual happy customer…this girl looks happy so she’ll do as a proxy…

If you’re demoing at a large hobby event of some kind you’re obviously not going to convert every one into new player or a sale of some kind so don’t get disheartened if not every one is a roaring success. Another thing worth mentioning is that you may well get stuck with the occasional what I have taken to referring to as ‘babysitter’ demo’s.  A ‘babysitter demo’ is when a parent (usually a dad) strolls over, insists that his children desperately want a demo of whatever game system your showing off and then wanders off on his own to have a relaxing stroll around unencumbered by the kids while you’re stuck with them and they can be somewhat of a chore if the children in question aren’t really that interested…..But to be honest as a parent myself I completely understand, lol.

Obviously the level of experience that the demo recipient has is going to be a factor but generally I’ve found that a simple overview of the background followed by a basic rules run through with additional info added in on a turn by turn basis is the way to go.

Of course all that effort and preparation is all for nought if no-one actually comes over and asks for a demo. Obviously if this is a pre-arranged demo in a store or gaming club then this is less of an issue (unless they just don’t turn up) but even in the aforementioned environment the area you’re demoing on needs to look the part…

This was the demo table provided for me by the Prodos Games guys at Salute (there were a couple of smaller ones as well that I didn’t take pictures of)…

…and it did the job wonderfully. I have seen some amazing demo areas at both events, clubs and hobby shops over the years and anything that makes you want to get a closer look has the wonerful added benefit of bringing a potential new player in range of your evil clutches. This is obviously a much better method than running around grabbing random strangers and yelling “Play with me..” at them. That’s how arrest records are created…

“I just want to show you something wonderful…”

Of course if any of you reading this have any other helpful tips then I’d love to hear them in the comments section. Links to inspiring pictures of awesome demo areas would also be nice as I rather selfishly only took pictures of the one I was using when at Salute but there were many excellent ones there that I’d love to see pictures of and any thing helpful that the Henchmen, Pressgangers, Pathfinders, Doomtroopers and the rest would like to share would be gratefully received as well.

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