So what IS a boardgamejam?! In a nutshell, it is an event held every year in Toronto where you attempt to do is to make a boardgame over one weekend (2 days). So what can be done in 2 days? In this post I will talk about our (Justine + me) experience jamming out a game. Here is a summary of the game we created followed up by our experience throughout the event
A game with ~30 cards for 3-5 players that takes ~20min to play. In Chicken Coup, each player are secretly placed in either Team Chicken or Team Fox where they now have to earn points for their team.
Chickens earn points by hatching eggs while foxes earn points by eating chickens. Cards are played into the coop and the game ends when all the cards are played.
In addition to gaining points throughout the game, each player has to guess what team everyone is on. You get extra points by guessing the correct teams of the other players. At the end of the game, either Team Chicken or Team Fox wins.
It started off with some initial remarks by Adam that set the premise of what we were all here for, what we needed to do and some words of wisdom + inspiration. Each year there is an overarching theme that game designers may or may not follow. We were told about this theme a few days before the event and this year the theme was ETHICS.
To be honest, this theme started off as more of a hindrance compared to a leap off point and I know that we did not have to follow the theme but I hate backing out of a good challenge! Here are some of our initial thoughts and ideas:
- How ethics was managed by children in a kindergarten
- What happens when multiple people control the ethics of one person
- What are some ethically challenging situations?
We ended digging deeper into the last idea by looking at ethics in taboo topics like cloning. The topic quickly moved onto chicken farms, which then lead to the horrible ways we treat chickens through overfeeding, space restrictions, slaughter etc.
One great thing about this event is that there were TONS of components and assets provided for our use. From scissors, cubes, miniatures, papers, glue, heavy cardstock etc etc.
We knew we wanted to take a more whimsical take on the theme so things like chicken escapes, jetpacks, rockets and chicken soup decoy were some of the topics we talked about. One thing lead to another and we are suddenly moving further away from a solidified ETHICS theme (it was just a guideline, don’t give me that look o.o) and into a more fun centric game about chickens and foxes! Below are some prototype artistic steps that Justine did.
It was only in the final hours at George Brown (the venue which closed at 6pm so we had to be out by then) that we got our breakthrough! It was going to be a deceptive game where players will be a part of either team chicken or team fox. The teams are randomly distributed in the beginning of the game and kept hidden throughout the game. Chickens need to hatch eggs for points while foxes need to eat chickens for points. Both teams have a different gameplay style.
Gameplay mechanical tests were initially done with a deck of cards. It was quite important for us to have a simple and minimal turn process. We settled with something on the lines of “Draw 1 then play 1 into the coop” as our main action.
As we got home (at around 8pm) we got cracking once again! With our newly found direction of Chicken Coup (the name of the game), both of us were motivated to push further and make this game into a prototype reality. Justine trucked along with the art while I worked on the game mechanics and components. I had a general gist of how the game would be and by enforcing a low component count (under 30 cards + no crazy extra components), I became more in tune with figuring out how gameplay and mechanics were going to be.
The doors at George Brown opened at 9am the next day however we decided to be at home and work up until the playtests sessions were supposed to start (at around 1pm). This was a really great idea for us as we managed to get many things done in the comfort of our sleepwear :D
When we got to George Brown, everyone was still working hectically on their games. There were still many changes we needed to make to Chicken Coup + lets not forget about the artwork + playtesting.
Between 1pm and 5pm, there was some playtesting going on but there was mostly more people frantically trying to finish their games before the “big reveal” at the Mill st Brewery (the place where we all eat, drink and show off our games after the event!)
Fast forward to 5pm and we managed to bring Chicken Coup to a level of completion where we have somewhat of a solid game to show. Even though we managed to make a game in 2 days, it still needs a lot of TLC to become a consistently functional game!
Mill st Brewery
At the Mill st Brewery, we did some playtesting of their games + showed off our own game. There were three different awards that were given out. There were three different categories that awards could be won in.
Best Overall Game: Hex Vex
Crowd Favorite: Cure
Best Art: Chicken Coup (whoop whoooop)
Now I didn’t doubt Justine’s art’ing abilities one bit and I KNOW we had an unfair advantage in this category as she spent a good 2/3rd of her time making the art :D However we were aiming for stellar art and that’s what we swooped in and won with! Each winner received a $25 gift card to the game crafter!
Its been a great experience doing this jam and what I have learned is that if you dedicate the time and put your mind to it, decent games CAN be developed over a 2 day span. Another thing is that working together with a partner really does help one stay on task and productive. Making a lighter game also ensured that we weren’t boggled down with too many mechanics to refine because refining takes TIME!
One thing I wish was done by all teams in the BoardGameJam would be a thorough documentation of the games, processes, explorations, ideas etc throughout the two day endeavour. I hardly got to see (and meet) the people behind the games and I thing a blog/summary of game + summary of person would create quite a cool collection each year for the BoardGameJam’s website! We need the ETHICS men + their $50 + their game to live on forever on the internets :D
As some of you may know, I have been working on another boardgame called Outer Earth for close to a year now and I must say that my motivation level is heavily tilted towards Chicken Coup right now. This small, light, deductive and easy to learn game will find its way to the market some way or another so stay tuned!