Our 2-man team from our local games club, East Neuk Tabletop Games, won Best Board Game designed at the Moray Game Jam 2017 with our game ‘Jailbreak Jam’. To say I’m delighted is my understatement of the year so far! 🙂
The theme this year was “If at first you don’t succeed”. At first, we were a little surprised with the openness of this. There were so many ways you could explore the theme! But turned into a blessing as we were able to brainstorm our way through half a dozen ideas before settling on one which sounded achievable in 48 hours, and most importantly, fun!
We set ourselves some rough targets to pace ourselves through the weekend. Ideally we wanted a prototype that we could playtest by Saturday lunchtime. This would give us the rest of Saturday to tweak the rules and have it ready for the competition close at 12 noon on Sunday.
We liked the idea of a group of players repeatedly trying to escape from a prison using whatever objects they can snaffle, whilst avoiding the guards and contending with the potential dishonesty of the other inmates. The game lended itself to a fun and snappy experience with a healthy helping of schadenfreude whenever rival prisoners’ plans failed.
Firstly we planned as much of the game out on paper as we could – the titles of cards, their powers, the quantites present and their distribution across various locations in the game. In order to get a prototype up and running quickly, the first version was quite skeletal and needed a reference sheet explaining card interaction. But even this version of the game was quick and fun to play. We streamlined and edited all the cards whenever we felt it was necessary to improve the playability. Using card sleeves helped a lot because we could hotswop card details quickly.
Some gameplay elements, like trading, came and went and then came back again. We saw through playtesting that the abilility to trade cards between the players facilitated a fun experience and helped set the scene for potentially dodgy dealings behind bars.
Allies were cards that helped you out of a jam. These changed in nature across playtesting from permanent powerups to one-use only cards. This helped the game become less randomly unbalanced, and reinforced the idea of calling in a favour from your friends.
We had lots of other ideas, such as playing characters who had special abilities, but there wasn’t time to implement and test them all. So on Saturday night we locked the design down. We had an improved, playable game that was fast and fun. The final push was to write up the rules so that other people could understand them and play the game without us demonstrating how it worked.
The last thing that we had to decide was the name of the game. During the weekend there were several workshops on various aspects of game desgin. Phil Harris (Senior Narrative Designer at Bigpoint GmbH) gave a very interesting talk on ‘Engaging Play’ and at the end I asked him for his thoughts on how to come up with a great name. He suggested using the ‘Word Palace’ technique, through which you build up a list of words and phrases that are associated with the theme of your game. He said that good names often feature two words, but sometimes one word can work if it’s a compound word or a play on words. For the purposes of the competition we settled on Jailbreak Jam as it was unique and it had a nice left-right-left feel to it. However we will no doubt revisit our burgeoning Word Palace before too long!
We were over the moon when the judges announced that Jailbreak Jam was the winner of the Boardgame category of this year’s Moray Game Jam. Although Martin and I are both interested in game design, we never expected to win. I guess playing hundreds of different games over the last couple of years at our local games club probably helped to finetune our gameplay-fu!
On the drive home on Sunday we were totally buzzing with ideas. Both for refinements to the game and for other variants. The central gameplay mechanic certainly seemed to lend itself to different versions. But that’s a project for another day.
We’ll be taking our winning prototype game (and our trophy of course) to East Neuk Tabletop Games this weekend to do some blind playtesting. Hopefully the ENTs will humour us with more playtesting duties in the months to come as the game evolves into its final form!
If you’re interested in board games design but have never quite got round to it yet, then I’d definitely recommend going to a gamejam event. It’s totally fired me up!
And I have to say the Moray Game Jam was a fab experience. The venue, support and staff were 2nd to none! I’m looking forward to the next one already!
Link: Moray Game Jam website