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Battle of the Boards

In the second annual Board Game Jam, participants faced a ticking timer as they created an original board game in two days.

We Are Legion, a game of hacker vs. corporate lobbies inspired by Anonymous, won the award for Best Overall.

The most fun a person can have while horizontal isn’t on a bed, it’s on a board.

At least, you might have heard that argument made by some of the the board game aficionados that took part in the second annual Board Game Jam this past weekend. You definitely would have heard it from Dave Fono and Adam Clare, the creators of the event. Last year, the inaugural Board Game Jam was born out of their observation that even within Toronto’s booming gaming community—that holds events like TOJam, which focus on video games—the board was still a relic of the past.

“We wanted to attract people who just like games. And pretty much everyone likes board games, it’s pretty universal. So, we thought if you like playing games, you’re going to like making games,” Clare said, leaning against the bar at The Central on Sunday night, where the teams from the Jam were celebrating their creations with food, drinks, and friendly competition—a much needed period of R&R after a jam-packed weekend.

It began on Saturday morning—teams congregated at George Brown College for game-design workshops, then put those new skills to work on an original board game (the theme, entirely optional, was “science”) with materials supplied by Fono and Clare. Sunday was “play-test” day, where teams helped each other fix holes or spot weaknesses in their concepts. Teams worked up until 6 p.m., when it was time to officially present their games to the rest of the group.

Players try to spread their GMO products far and wide in Frankenfood, which won the award for Best Use of Theme (science).

Fono and Clare encouraged the 70 participants to think beyond a grade-school assignment board game. “Usually, you think of a square board, you roll a dice and move around, and answer questions. A game can be so much more than that,” Clare said. It was obvious, by looking at some of the games on display on Sunday night, that most had taken his advice to heart.

Winning Best Overall was We Are Legion, a game about computer hackers and corporate lobbies, inspired by the hacker collective Anonymous. Best Use of Theme was Frankenfood, in which players work cooperatively as an evil GMO-producing corporation that spreads products around the world as the game tries to restrict them. Other games dealt with subjects as diverse as grammar (Punctuaction!), time travel (Paradox), corporate takeovers (Rat Race), high school “it” crowds (Cliques and Chemistry), and even Rob Ford’s battle against the Coalition for Transit City (Subways! Subways! Subways!).

Ryan Kelln, a video game developer who participated in this year’s Board Game Jam, wanted to make his game Collaporation about collaboration and teamwork, so that it could function as an alternative to popular violent video games, which he calls “garbage.” He said, pointing to the sprawling game, which involves three players in different roles, completing tasks in a mini obstacle course, “That’s not garbage. That’s awesome. I’m proud of that.”

Ryan Kelln (right) helps a fellow Jammer play his creation, Collaporation.

According to Kelln and his three teammates, there are many reasons that some people never tire of their favourite boardgames: they’re an escape from real life, they tap into childhood nostalgia, there’s social interaction, players use their hands and enjoy the (mostly) fake competition with friends. That’s why they decided to spend their weekend in a fast-paced creative challenge, exhausting though it was.

“When we started cheering, we knew we were on to something,” Kelln said.


  • Mlewyn

    The Rob Ford one sounds good!

  • Anonymous

    This sounds like it would have been a lot of fun; wish I’d heard about it a few weeks ago rather than the day before.

  • Gregalvin

    Next year I’ll be there with bells on!!!! Subways! Subways! Subways! sounds like fun.

  • Ryan Kelln

    The event was a blast, thanks to the organizers, volunteers and all involved. “Garbage”, ha. To be fair to the violent games – it’s perfectly possible to add context, metaphor, and all sorts of other aspects to make a great, but violent game (story/movie/etc). For example, the Godfather movie shows the disaster of choosing violence, and zombies, orcs and other fantasy creatures turn killing into a metaphor for other actions, and many of the great boardgames that were made at the event had violence that was satirical or made you realize how terrible it is.

    Games that are violent fantasy without any of the above grounding in reality have more in common with other pure fantasy industries then they do with the rest of the entertainment/cultural industries. That’s fine, and I don’t advocate regulation or censorship, but a healthy culture treats pure fantasy carefully because it is divorced from reality. Leading people away from reality for profit is poor choice for someone that has the skills to do something that is just as fun, engaging and tied to reality.

  • Anonymous

    I very much hope that both “Subways! Subways! Subways!” and “Punctu-action!” (which I think benefits from an added hyphen) find their way to mass production somehow. Failing that, I hope they make enough copies so that photos and rules and such can be uploaded to :-)