April 2011 BGJ – CardBoard Jam – Jam Within A Jam Within A Jam


On the weekend of April 9 & 10th, from morning until night, about 30 game developers gathered into 8 groups at GAMBIT Game Lab on MIT campus to participate in a new type of Boston Game Jam. This time around, video and computer games were set aside for board and card game projects. Jeff Ward and Tim Volpe wrote up their enthusiastic perspectives on the Cardboard Jam shortly after. Check back with Boston Game Jams soon for more details and comprehensive coverage of all the Cardboard Jam projects.

Here we offer two unique perspectives in separate posts from members of the one jam team made up entirely of Boston Indies community members. Andrew Brockert’s post shows us the internal experience of the jam and provides a setting and atmosphere with its words; the other, by Chad Serrant, is a play-by-play breakdown of the mechanical and collaborative decision-making efforts that combine during the development of a board game in two days.

From contributing writer Chad Serrant.

Jeff Ward, Andrew Brockert, Tim Crosby and I came together during a weekend in April for a Game Jam. The topic this time: it’s not digital! We had cards, tokens and dice. It was quite a change of pace from other game jams, but it would be pretty boring otherwise. There were many newcomers to this Game Jam, too. Digital vs non-digital attracts different crowds.

The name of the game is what we wrote on the back of the cards. The name changed between Inception, Ensepshun, Inception 2: Incept Harder, Inception 2: Electric Boogaloo before Andrew chose the easiest pun graphic to represent on the back of a card. Now that’s executive action!

This game is cooperative, where four players try to build a path to the goal, pick it up, and head back to the start. They must also deal with Danger, which will boot them out of the game if they or their allies cannot help. The game should last for about 15 minutes tops, depending on how much the team argues.

It begins with an idea (Photo by Rik Eberhardt)

Tim had watched the movie Inception for the first time that Friday and he wanted to make a game based on it. I wanted to make a cooperative game, because I never see enough of those. We banded together with Jeff and Andrew and aimed for a game where you tried to build a path and grab the MacGuffin while avoiding danger. If one person made it out with the MacGuffin, everyone won.

Add some Boston Indies in jokes, and the MacGuffin became Scott MacGuffin became the Viximo. Buy their stuff so they don’t get mad at us :)

One big difference between this game jam and other game jams is that we spent most of the day crafting and refining the playable game. Usually you spend two hours designing the game and twenty hours programming it. But this weekend we were designing and tweaking the game play up until closing time. Andrew squeezed some time on Sunday to print out cards on card stock. Iteration is awesome!

As with iteration, we had lots of time to reject ideas. This part is always fun. Limiting resources to the minimum number (e.g. four). One idea was to give path cards unique bonuses and penalties for moving up and down. We decided to keep it simple and leave them blank. Jeff and Tim did not want dice and cards, so the deck served as a luck component. The Gear card probably went through the most changes and is now a risky yet necessary part of the game.

Playing Jam Within A Jam Within A Jam (Photo by Calvin Nelson)

Play Testing
The nice part about fast development is that we can playtest the hell out of our game. We wound up adding personal goals because we found an optimal solution that made the game too easy. We also added a timer to force people along because otherwise the team could Discard and Draw until they have the perfect deck – the Pandemic problem, as Jeff puts it. We used to have a “Move 2” card but ultimately folded it into the Path card.

Long ago when I showed my QBasic games off to people (QBasic for life!) I learned that the games I make are much easier for me than they are for the testers. So I wasn’t surprised when we invited other people to playtest and they had various difficulties playing. One team didn’t embrace teamwork and were wiped out. Another team tried the “Pandemic problem” approach but abandoned it when Personal Goals were added to the mix. Overall, teams were able to win very reliably but it was very tense throughout the game – the perfect difficulty.

Lessons Learned

Jam Within A Jam Within A Demo (Photo by Rik Eberhardt)

The difficult part about programming a game is that it takes a while to get the prototype up and running. You can’t really tweak the game or add new rules on the fly, and then you need to worry about bugs. (Unless you write bug-free code, like I do. Naturally.) There are no bugs when you deal with cardboard, and you get a lot more time to design and tweak your game.

Rapidly iterating a game makes it mutate very quickly. We began with a template close to the film Inception but veered away when we allowed movement in any direction. We use Secrets as currency to fend off Danger and pick up the Viximo, while in the film there is no physical Viximo to pick up – in fact they are searching for secrets.

I had a blast this weekend and can’t wait for the next Game Jam like this. It was good to give my design muscles a workout for once.

The rules for the game, and enough information to build your own deck, are available here:


Chad Serrant works as an Escalation Engineer at a computer data backup company. He lives in Arlington and designs games for fun in his rapidly dwindling spare time.

One thought on “April 2011 BGJ – CardBoard Jam – Jam Within A Jam Within A Jam

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