Game jams. There‘s nothing like them. Game developers from different walks of life and levels of experience getting together to create a game within the time limits of the jam.
Usually these jams focus on our digital brethren, but sometimes there is a chance to break out the pens and paper and go old-school. This actually gives an advantage since not having to code to create a prototype means that your team has more time to work on the mechanics and balance of the game.
Does creating a board game from start to finish seem like a herculean task? How about doing this at a 48-hour game jam?
Twice now we, the members of Kvasir Games, have done just that. The Nordic Game Jam, an annual jam in Copenhagen, offers an analog track alongside the more traditional main digital track. The board game makers are provided with everything they need in terms of office supplies, but the most important tool – and the key to speed-designing a board game – is a massive pile of damaged or otherwise unsellable board games, affectionately known as “The Hoard.”
The game components found in the Hoard are the building blocks of the jam games. After all, it‘s easier to come up with a new design when you‘re standing on the shoulders of board game making giants, right?
In our case, the materials at hand inspired our design. This was especially true when we designed our first board game, Mussades, at Nordic Game Jam 2012. All the analog track participants sat together and had a brainstorming session. Somebody picked up hexagonal tiles from a cannibalised board game and the brainstorming centered on ideas connected with them. Soon, we split into several smaller groups, nearly all of which created games based on hexagonal shapes in some way. However, even though our ideas started out in the same place – with a simple hexagonal object – the games created were very different from each other.
Other objects, which are not necessarily connected to board games, can also be repurposed in order to further your design. For example, the use of Lego bricks as score counters or a plastic dragon that represents an “enemy” facet of your game.
The trick to speed-designing a game is rapid prototyping and testing. We all know that prototyping and playtesting are instrumental in game development. And it‘s no different when it comes to board games.
Thankfully, making simple paper prototypes for board game ideas is incredibly easy. This means that you can go through all the ideas you have in a relatively short period of time, discarding those that don‘t work and letting those that do evolve. In the beginning of the design process, this testing is done within the team, but as soon as a promising idea has been found it‘s time to take the testing further.
The participants of a jam are generally very busy with their own projects, but there are always people around that can be convinced to sit down with a game for a couple of minutes. We grabbed the organizers, cameramen, and random people (un)lucky enough to be walking past our tables. The good thing about playtesting at a game jam is that the people there love playing and making games, and thus have good insights on and are used to finding problems with gameplay.
The presentation of your game at a jam is very important. You have to show what’s fun/interesting/innovative about it in a few minutes, which is quite challenging for a board game. Digital games have the advantage here, since it is quite easy to create a trailer that showcases the gameplay using ingame footage and the use of music can easily make your presentation more powerful.
Board games seem to suffer the same fate as art games. For example, Dear Esther isn’t easily presented in 5 minutes; it is designed to provide a deeper experience for the player, which builds up over time. If a digital game is being played, you can normally tell the genre and theme. But is that the case with board games?
Getting your game idea across using the appearance of your game is incredibly important, even more important than in a digital game. There is no music to distract from the mechanics of your game, but good graphics make it stick in the audience’s minds.
From Jam to Store
Creating your own board game from scratch may seem overwhelming, but the trick is to just go for it. In just a few short months our second game, Wanted: Igor!, has gone from a prototype created in 48 hours to a game that is appearing in stores this December.
So if an idea for a board game is brewing in your mind, why not just give yourself a weekend and see where it takes you?
Kvasir Games is a group of five people who first met each other at the Nordic Game Jam 2012, hosted at the IT University in Copenhagen, Denmark, including Kristín
Guðmundsdóttir, Ioana Marin, Anders Lystad Brevik, Tróndur Justinussen, and Simon Cutajar – Malta. After creating the game Mussades at the Nordic Game Jam 2012 and winning several awards, the group decided to continue working together by forming a company registered in Denmark with the aim to professionally release the game in stores.
Find out more on: Official website at kvasirgames.com