Iron Game Designer 2016: How Did We Get Here?

Iron (Chef) Game Designer lay dormant from 2009 to 2015; this was the first year we’ve had it run with such momentum from the last. And it worked again, and worked better – we had 50% more people, bigger teams, bigger games and bigger enthusiasm. We’re now looking at doing it again in Sydney in July and also talking to some teachers about running IGD in schools.

EDIT: Video now up here!

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Chairman Kaga welcomes everyone to Boardgame Stadium

But IGD would be nothing without its participants, the brave people who create the amazing work in so brief a time. I’m now cutting together the video we shot on the day (last year’s video is here) and this time I have a tripod to stop some of the shaking (although we had a much smaller, louder venue so the sound may be worse). In the meantime here’s a quick wrap up of the excellent work we saw. Last year’s games explored “Home is Not Safe”; this year’s theme was “How Did I Get Here?” and seven teams explored that in seven different ways…

What Went Wrong was a story-telling card game not unlike Once Upon A Time, where gangsters have to explain to the boss why the heist they just ran went wrong. Like OUaT cards represented ideas (and the teams , but unlike OUaT having a boss adjudicating things, rating responses and throwing out the heist components provide a different kind of concrete basis. That plus the crime theme and the frame of an argument shifting blame made it stand alone and be quite fun. It needed a bit more robustness but this was probably the most playable game of the day, and produced a lot of laughs in all its playtesting.

Journey was the opposite, probably the least developed and complete of the day because I think the boys on this team changed horses with under an hour left when their first idea collapsed. Their quick alternative was a card game about colour matching – each card had a colour of its own and one or two colours it could match to, and the idea was to play along those lines while trying to build up sets of matching locations and matching emotions. It might not have been more than the sum of its parts but the experienced folks in this team made the parts very good: each card had a power as well as a set, so you had to choose the best power, best set-match and make sure you could keep playing cards onwards with the matching. Plus the emotional aspect added something very new to storytelling. Why is the ocean serene or the desert sad? Suddenly things had power. I think this has legs.

The Hero’s Journey shared a name with the former but nothing else because the theme was just the right level of strength. And although the name and Joseph Campbell are very familiar, the angle of this game was like nothing else. Here the players took the roles of mentors guiding the hero through nine life challenges, hoping that he recalls their lessons they raised him with, not those of others. By playing cards to challenges they could direct the hero towards good, evil, chaos and law and hope he ended up in the quadrant that matched their hidden identity. This was still clunky at its core but the storytelling potential and the unique approach of character position made this my favourite game of the day and I hope it goes further.

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Hard at work figuring out how they got here

“I’ll Never Drink Again, Officer” was not unlike Journey in that it was about colour matching, only here your pattern was hidden and you were playing cards to your tableau from a shared deck being passed around, as you struggled to sort out your memories from everyone else’s after a bad night out. What sold this game was the outstanding quality of the cards in question, grouped into suits of meeting celebrities, eating food and breaking laws. The juxtoposition of the cards helped create stories; having “Let the Lions Out of the Zoo” next to “Ate Roadkill On A Dare” made you wonder about the fate of the lions. While the writing was first class, the flaw in this game came in the mechanics – there was no choice in what to play. The crew had spotted this and brainstormed on how to fix it, but never found it. How do you get past blocks like that? I think in 150 minutes, there may not be a way…

Voices in the Forest was hands down the strongest idea mechanically, providing a new twist on the hottest new genre, communication games. You’re lost in the forest with only a few items and three voices on your radio. One you can trust, but the other two want you to stay in the forest and die. Borrowing a bit from Codenames the speakers have a hidden diagram of safe spots and not-safe ones, and a start and an exit, but the 5×5 grid is full of information not for the wanderer but for the clue-givers, forcing them to limit what they can say or how they say it, like the rounds in Monickers. A bluffing hidden-role communication game is a perfect storm of hot new trends. These guys finished earlier, again stuck on how to really develop it to perfection, but also because they really nailed something strong.

Space? was the name and space was the subject, in the sense of travelling through it in tiny vehicles which had random levels of propulsion, trying to avoid crashing into randomly moving wormholes (or make them crash into others). The randomness of this was both a weakness and a strength; it was part of what made the game fun and I think would also help it appeal to younger gamers who like just having the experience. They also wouldn’t mind drifting randomly until a leader emerges to attack; for older players though the first act was a bit empty. This was also the game that would have the longest play time and the prettiest, most exploratory world, and so suffered most from a short pitch with low tech in this format. And super props for using the Trivial Pursuit pieces, turning a bad game into a good one!

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For a blue piece of pie, which bit of space holds my next artifact?

Lastly we had The Walk of Shame which returned to the theme of recovering after a hell of a night out and trying to piece together what you did. Unlike I’ll Never Drink Again, this was an old-school board game with roll and move, tracking back through Brisbane, complete with familiar landmarks on spaces. To balance out the luck of (the these days much-reviled) roll and move you could choose long or short paths, with longer paths allowing you to pick up (but in character spend) extra cash. The winner being the person who spent the most cash the night before and retracing their steps through vomit-stained gutters and prison fines. The reversal of players getting money to represent what their character spent made it nice and kinesthetic, and the Brisbane locations made it wonderfully atmospheric. It was simple but the kind of people keen to re-enact a pubcrawl LIKE simple. Thus I believe this was most marketable game on the day. You could sell it at pubs.

I say it at the start of every competition: I organize this event because participating would be too scary for me. But every year we see bright, enthusiastic faces, excited by the prospect and fearless to the core. Somewhere around the middle they get a bit weary and a bit worried but by the end I see those same smiles, that same enthusiasm and excitement, filled with awe at what they have created and eager to take it further. Is it crazy? Yes. Is it all a bit silly? Yes. Does it make people do things they never thought they could and create excited gamers dreaming amazing new dreams? Oh yes indeed.



4 thoughts on “Iron Game Designer 2016: How Did We Get Here?

    • Oooh, yes, it was, although I haven’t played ADO. There’s definitely room though for a crime/noir based storytelling card game. Like Cash and Guns in spirit, but with less maths.

    • Yes, sometime said on the day “if you like improv grants, check out Aye Dark Overlord, and what they described sounded so very nearly the same game we’d come up with!
      I think the difference is that What Went Wrong you are trying to explain at the same time as each other, instead of getting to explain your story a bit more linearly, from the description I heard of ADO.
      Ah, to be safe from each other player claiming your an alcoholic, who brought a diamond-stealing stripper to the kidnapping….

      • There’s so many games these days that this is unavoidable so I always say people take this as a compliment, especially if its a great game like ADO! As the market gets more crowded people like games to be signposted like “it’s like this but…”.

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