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culture

Board Game Jam Gives Creators Two Days to Invent the Next Settlers

At the third-annual Board Game Jam, teams of creators had 48 hours to make an original tabletop diversion.

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The casino heist game High Stakes, an award winner for Crowd Favourite.

On Sunday, it was possible to fall in love, build a robot equipped with monster truck wheels, and travel through space to a distant asteroid, all in the same evening.

This was thanks to Toronto’s third annual Board Game Jam, a friendly competition during which teams of would-be Milton Bradleys created original tabletop games in just two days, using cardboard, dice, pegs and—most importantly—more than a little ingenuity. Roaming the room of excited game-makers, it was obvious why founders Adam Clare and Dave Fono would have thought there was an appetite for such an activity.

“We were talking about how there are other Jams happening in the city, like TOJam, and we said, ‘No one’s doing this for board games,’” Clare recalled, shortly after conducting an introductory session with the roughly sixty people assembled at George Brown’s School of Design to begin the proceedings on Saturday. He teaches game design at the school, a job he landed in a roundabout fashion after obtaining a masters in philosophy. His belief is that games have a way of bringing people together.

“Humans interacting with humans is going to make our lives more enjoyable, for the most part, so a board game encourages that sort of behaviour,” he said. “It tells us, by virtue of the game mechanics itself, that we need to be conscious of every other person around the table.”

On Sunday evening, the teams showed off their finished creations at the Annex Live, a pub near Bloor Street and Brunswick Avenue. The games on display touched on subjects trivial (Celebrity Culture), delicious (Food Truck), and otherworldly (Space Miners in Space). The designers welcomed new players with boundless enthusiasm, anxious to show off what their imaginations had managed to conjure in a mere forty-eight hours. They self-deprecatingly lamented typos and gameplay wrinkles, even as they promised that things would improve with revisions. Everyone had managed to imbue personality into their handmade, hastily assembled works.

Romance Roulette was a fun twist on the old classic Dream Date, using a system not unlike Clue‘s to allow players to learn the truth of three potential love connections. It proved, like real-life romance, to be a trickier, more confusing proposition than expected. For instance, the mysterious artist we thought would be a real catch, after learning that she worked part-time as a model, ended up being Mrs. Wrong (somehow, she had unattractive photos of herself posted on Facebook). Our opponent, meanwhile, ended up walking away the victor when she managed to snag a hunky fireman who did charity work and had a book deal. The game’s makers were Alison Pattern and David Murphy.

One of the winners of the evening was High Stakes, which took the prize for Crowd Favourite. The game involved four people breaking into a casino, where they would attempt to complete a heist by cracking the vault and making off with the loot, all while not being killed by any guards or caught by any security cameras. The prize for Best Overall went to Sky Hook, in which multinational corporations vie to extract resources from an asteroid using a space elevator. To complicate matters, players must make difficult decisions about whether to focus on research, or insurance, or whether to blindly throw money at the issue. The creators of both games won $25 gift certificates to The Game Crafter, a website that sells things that assist in making games appear more professional.

The story of Sky Hook‘s genesis is in keeping with the official theme of this year’s Board Game Jam: cooperation. Philip May and Brian Valiquette were friends beforehand. On Saturday, they decided to join forces with Bernie Dodge and Brian Thompson. Dodge, a professor of simulations and games at San Diego State University, was teaching a semester in Massachusetts when he heard about the Board Game Jam through Reddit on Thursday. The fact that he made the trip to Toronto a priority is indicative of the passion game devotees have for the craft.

Pattern, meanwhile, was not only participating for the second time, but had taken part in a similar competition the weekend prior, where teams had just four hours to complete a game. In succinctly explaining why she felt the desire to get involved in these two events back-to-back, she might as well have been speaking for everyone in attendance.

“I like games a lot,” she said.

Photo by Kevin Scott/Torontoist.

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