This is where it all begins, and like a good story teller, we don’t begin our story at the beginning (there will, no doubt; be flash-backs at a later date), but we do begin with a pretty significant gaming event at the beginning of 2017: a Game Jam, hosted and held at the ITB Board Games HQ in very central London.
“Hold the dice! What is a game jam?” I imagine you may be thinking.
Well, you know what a “Jamming Session” is don’t you? Just like the band you had with your mates back in school, a jam requires no preparation or planning; simply the willingness to get together, have fun create something that didn’t exist before you started. Simply replace the guitars, drums, and keyboard with meeples, blank playing cards and reams and reams of paper. And that, is a Game Jam.
And that is exactly what we did. My cohort; Bren, and I left the grey, rainy Midlands
behind and drove all the way down and into the grey London arriving – 2 hours early as we were expecting traffic in the centre of London – at the understated HQ of Inside the Box Board Games. We chilled, chatted to ITB Head Honcho and Statecraft designer Peter Blenkharn, while he set up and of course we perused their game collection.
The Game Jam Game: Cerebrum
The day got underway at 12, with around 20 plus would-be-designers all ready to get stuck into the jam. Bren and I joined up with another pair of bearded fellows (Team name, therefore, was of course: The 4 Bearded Geniuses)
The brief was simple:
Not solely card game
And the theme: Artificial Intelligence.
6 hours later, along with all the other teams, we had a game: Cerebrum; an abstract, tile placement, resource management game about tech companies trying to build AI that they could sell, but control.
At this point in the day, you stop building and start playing other team’s games, and each game was scored (1-5) on some key criteria Fun, Replay-ability, Theme/Mechanics etc.
I stayed with our game and guided people through it (and lost every single time!!).
Between each play, the other 3 bearded geniuses would return get some feedback and we’d tweak the game ever so slightly. But, Cerebrum worked, it worked pretty well, and if nothing else we had enjoyed creating it, meeting other designers and generally had a great, interesting day.
However; as it turned out other teams enjoyed playing.
They enjoyed playing it more than they enjoyed playing the other games.
They enjoyed playing it the most.
The 4 Bearded Geniuses won the first ever ITB Game Jam.
We won the public vote, so we’ll each be receiving a copy of ITB’s Statecraft. The judge’s vote will happen at some point soon, where the winner of that we receive a fully art worked-up version of their game.
So fingers crossed.
After that of course; the sky is the limit.
The Making of a Game Jam Game:
What worked well?
In a word; talking. We talked a lot about ideas, mechanics, and themes. We discussed games we had played and how we begged, borrowed and stole from games we liked or had played. Talking. We talked so much we ate into our ‘build time’ massively. We wrote lists of mechanical systems we could use, buzz words, component and games parts, at one point we drew up a decision tree to help us work out what type of game we were going to make and how the theme of AI would be in it.
The other thing that worked very well was our team dynamic; Bren, Tino, Graham, and yours truly gelled really quite nicely. How does this help you ahead of an upcoming Game Jam? Well, much like a chain only being as strong as its weakest link, an orchestra only works, when everyone works together (and this is the metaphor I’m trying to get to). This is what to look out for when picking your team (please note I know next to nothing about orchestras, other than Ludovico Einaudi is awesome and seeing him live at Blenheim Palace was a real lifetime highlight):
Percussion (Tino), kept us in check and on point, gave us the meter to work to and when we drifted from the theme, he pulled us back in.
Brass (Brendan), gave us some of the big impact pieces – the concentric circular board layout for example.
Strings (Graham), did most of the work, both physical – cutting cards up, writing stuff down, and the mental he did a lot of the maths and everyone bounced their ideas off him.
Composer (Me), I asked a lot of questions. How are we going to do that? What will that mean? Let’s park that for a minute and think about…I also wave my hands around wildly when talking.
To have an awesome, potentially winning team, these are the type of people you want to work with.
What didn’t work so well?
Planning; we didn’t really plan our time very well, but then even if had I doubt any of us would have paid any attention to the clock in any event. – but we could have avoided a big stress and rush had at least one of us been paying attention.
What I would do differently next time?
I would take some more stationary – yes loads was provided, but like a good resource management game, you may find yourself with that precious sharpie when you need it. So I’ll be taking a range of felt tips, multicoloured sharpies, a few pencils and a ruler next time.
I’d try and spend more time meeting and talking to other people, I did some, but nowhere near enough. I could even be tempted to have a few business cards made up; just name, contact details and what I’m working on/status of designs. If you’re looking for play testers for your game, or you are due to release a Kickstarter project soon, definitely do this.
Also, some biscuits. Talking about games over a coffee needs some biscuits.
Will there be a next time?
Real life allowing; you bet. Building a game under those conditions is a fabulous experience, and if you’re interested in game design you should try and find one, and failing that, talk to your local gaming shop/café about maybe putting one on.
Have you been to a game jam? How would you advise someone attending an upcoming event?
Thanks for reading folks.
ITB’s Sub Terra designer by Tim Pinder is currently live on Kickstarter, and it’s already fully funded so head on over if you want to get in on some of that action. Statecraft by Peter Blenkharn successfully funded last year and will be available very soon. Check their website for more details and keep an eye out for future event’s they’ll no doubt be hosting.