I got this idea at Global Game Jam this year. The basic idea of the game is this: it’s a cooperative game which starts as a one player game. Every round, a new player must join the game (not finding a new player is the lose condition!). Rounds are fast, mechanics simple enough to be explained in under a minute to new players. I themed the game around fantasy dungeons. Each new player is a living hero who goes to explore the dungeon. When they die, they gain some power from dying (the vengeful ghost business and all) and can help out the next hero. The ultimate goal is to defeat the dungeon boss. If a new hero is not found, all of the ghosts’ efforts and lives have been wasted…

The game was playtested during the jam in a local gaming convention, conveniently our site’s next door neighbor. By the end of the game there were 11 players around the table and it took about an hour. Some mechanics should be improved but the basic idea is sound. I think this game is great for events like gaming cons because the game can be started right away and you get to meet new people all the way through the session, instead of having to go through the trouble of finding players before starting.

Here’s a more detailed story of how this game came to be: http://sidelineshouting.blogspot.com/2012/01/global-game-jam-2012-p...

What do you think?

I replied:

“A game jam can be a tough environment for testing board games – especially ones that require a lot of players! At this point I had no idea how many players it would take to win the game but I guessed that it would be at least ten.”

Tell me about it! :) I conceived a conga line party game (two lines of five on opposite sides of a space “chase” each other until one head tags the tail of another). I realized it would have been tough to pry enough bodies away from their computers on Saturday. So, I salted it away (along with a dozen other ideas—good brainstorming session on Friday!) and concentrated on socializing and learning from fellow jammers.

Mika, I wonder if your game would make a great “first day of class” exercise for teachers, who are always looking for ways to connect students and get them cooperating from the get-go.

Mika responded:

Conga line party game sounds exotic! But yeah, those other jammers are really really busy, something I’ve noticed in past jams as well. The inclusion of board games is great but the event itself doesn’t do much to support their development. You might want to have your own group of playtesters available. I was really lucky to have that con going on next doors.

I think the core idea of a game that has more players coming in as it goes on is sound for “first day of class” but this particular game is a bit troublesome since not all players get to play from the get-go. Along the same lines of thought however, I quickly came up with a similar yet different concept. A game that everyone starts alone (easy to get going) but then to make any proper progress they have to “combine” their game with another player and after a while, with another pair of players and so on. Coming up with mechanics for this one might be a fun challenge.

Re-theming might be in order as well. I don’t know how well classrooms take on the whole getting killed for the team thing. Underneath the surface though my game is a simple resource management game.

I then said:

“The inclusion of board games is great but the event itself doesn’t do much to support their development.” — Ian Schreiber did a nice “get ready” video for board gamers, but there was only one person who did one at one of the biggest sites (NYU). I’d like to see more board games, street games, theater games, some mobile games, even educational games. And lots of cross-overs. (My conga line thing started as a video game, but I don’t have coding skills, so I made it a party game.) But, the “game jam” ethic is pretty strongly rooted in coding. How to change? Pondering…

Steve Graham chimed in:

I don’t know if it’s that’s strongly rooted, but it is the central draw. Last year, one of the teams at our GGJ site did a board game. This year, none of the teams did. Based on the ideas pitched at each, I think it was clearly a case of the idea appealing last year, while no board game ideas resonated this year.

We do games in our intro to game design class, and there the board games predominate. Last year, one class had no teams doing board games, and the other class had all but two teams doing board (or at least non-digital) games.

Development for non-digital games is generally easier, but playtesting has been harder.

One thing we do at our GGJ site is invite the local game club to come hang out for the weekend and play games, so they are available as playtesters. Seems to work well.


Mika said:

Our local game dev club at least has a lot of programmers and only a handful of artists. Our site had two board game projects this year but both of them ended up being solo development efforts. It was fine though, and two promising games came out of it. Last year there was only one board game project but there were more people working on it.

Overall in Finland there were I guess an average of 1 board game per site. Some of them looked quite interesting but I haven’t tested them yet. Printing out the components is always a bit of a hassle.

It’s not a big secret that game jams attract bucketloads of programmers. A board game team is generally made up of more than one designer and artists, and no programmers. People who do not consider themselves designers are not likely to get involved because they might fear their contribution to the project would not be very big. Although programming skills are sometimes useful (image manipulation scripts for instance) there’s not much for a programmer to do.

So it’s easier for programmers, even if they are somewhat design-minded, to go with a digital team. That way they are not expected to be busy with contributing to the design, but they still have the ability to contribute to the design if they have some ideas.

With digital prototypes it’s also possible to “just build something” and see how things interact, then go from there. With analog prototypes I think it is less so. The actual ability to really design games becomes more important. To really design a game is an ability that most people think they could do, but when it really comes down to doing the work it’s so much more complicated. Especially if it’s a board game.

Sabrina said:

Hi Mika- Thanks for sharing your board game. Neat high level concept. I love the image of an increasingly large number of people gathered around a table, all focusing and cooperating on beating a game. In your post-mortem you explain that you didn’t submit it because you didn’t make the digital assets- but you should totally take a photograph or two to share on your write-up.

I’m part of the Pittsburgh IGDA. We hold a dedicated “Board Game Jam” every spring. It’s like the GGJ except it’s just for one day and there is no programming involved. It’s very fun- I do recommend it as an event to other game groups out there. No need to wait for GGJ to try out some board game ideas! (And if you’re in the western pennsylvania area, come join us in Pittsburgh ^_^)

I will say, to Mika’s point, many time digital games have an infancy life as a “toy” prototype that is fun to play around with that you then build game structure around as you playtest and iterate, and it does seem as though the infancy of a board game may be different. Mika’s strategy of fixing on the desired player experience during the gameplay, and then building a ruleset to create that experience, is one I have seen be successful before for board games.

Good luck iterating on your game Mika.