Game the Game: Game Chef 2017: Bring That Beat Back

Bring that beat back - Untitled Page

I am doing the fine edits on my entry for this year’s Game Chef contest:

Theme: Borders

Ingredients: Yarn, Smoke, Cut, Echo



Interested to see what a character could look like?


Don’t Believe The Hype

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

And Everything I Had To Know

I Heard It On My Radio.


Game the Game: Game Chef 2017: The Game That Was Not Meant to Be

“We all lie to ourselves to be happy.”

Memory is malleable. Memory is full of fallacy.

With Borders as the theme, and yarn, echo, smoke, and cut as the ingredients, I developed a game about characters brought together, all in the space between life and death, and the memories they have that keep them going.

This was not a game about heaven and hell, it was literally about characters lying on the ground dying, and the memories that flash through their heads.

But in reliving those memories, they would discover, that these memories were flawed.

It was easy to remember the first kiss you shared your husband. It was a beautiful moment. But attached to that memory is the fact that there was a great deal of infidelity.

Players would narrate these less-than-awesome parts of the memories of the other characters.

There would be literal yearn tying characters together.

Each memory would be both a virtue and a vice.

I really liked this idea, and may do something with it, but several others were devleoping ideas that shared some similarities.

Enough that I scratched the idea.

What about characters from fiction, who have been mashed-up together? A character from The Breakfast Club, and one from Pride and Prejudice, and one from Mr. Belvedere?

And they all exist in a new piece of fiction: The Belvedere Prejudice Club!

Yeah, this was also a neat idea, but way far out there.

Next, I took a wholly different approach, working backwards, thinking of the ingredient, and then the theme.

Mind you, I was on vacation, with unreliable wifi, and a desire to swim in the lake.

So, much development was had, in my head.

Stay tuned to see if I can turn in a finished product.



Game the Game: Game Chef 2017

Thursday, June 29, 08:01, the directive came in:

BORDERS was the theme.

Ingredients to be included: Yarn, Echo, Smoke, and Cut.

Last year, at this time, the idea for Dance ‘Til Dawn came to me.

This year I just stared at the screen.

f247d41c005e32928aed07e2bd8a804d--yard-dice-games-diy-yahtzee-yard-gameI spoke with my consortium, and in true big business fashion, we threw ideas up on the white board:

  • labyrinth
  • warriors in purgatory, between life and death
  • fate, the strings of fate, fate witches
  • Battleship
  • Minos
  • players eating in different rooms
  • no eye contact
  • deeds and misdeeds
  • echo people
  • a wall

I have until June 10th to come up with a game, 4,000 words.

What will it be, if anything? I have no idea.

Plus, I will be on vacation.

Game The Game: GameChef 2016

“The Theme is Technology. The Ingredients, of which you must use at least two are: alarm, sunlight, sketch and dance. You have one week to design your game. Begin.”

Chair of the Game Chef Arena, June 2016

Screenshot 2016-06-10 14.14.42I have wanted to do something for Game Chef for many years now, but the Theme and/ or Ingredients never really spoke to me. In addition, June is always very hectic, with my real-life job in the most critical time of the year, plus I am usually knee-deep in summer convention prep.

It is easy to watch any cooking game show and come up with one’s own recipes. But, I am no Morimoto, and the comfort of my couch is certainly not the heat of a kitchen.

In Game Chef, one must use the Theme and Several of the ingredients and write and design a complete game in 10 days. There are mysterious message boards where fellow game designers post. Many are embracing a sci-fi theme, embracing Technology this way.

Me, I approached Technology in a different way.

I am a simple man, and I viewed technology as what it is, and what is available to many in this real world.

Technology as an integral component of the game.

I had this idea of using Pandora (or similar music-streaming service) as part of the randomizer.

And then I recalled the Happy Days dance marathon episode (S4E8 “They Shoot Fonzies, Don’t They”), because they had to keep dancing until the music stopped.

A motorcycle mishap forces the Fonz to push his broken bike for twelve miles just before he partners with Joanie Cunningham for a grueling dance marathon.

And, I had recently rewatched My Cousin Vinnie which took place in a town with an alarm siren  signifying the start of the day.

I liked the Alarm idea.

My initial idea was a game with a setting involving vampires and humans coexisting in a steel town, where the Vamopires could work the night shift. The soundtrack would be parts 1950s Rock and Roll and Punk Rock for an anachronistic type feel.

Screenshot 2016-06-10 14.13.45

Initial seed songs: “Night Time” by The Killing Joke; “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers; and “I Don’t Wanna Grow up” by the Ramones.

3d8a12f2461ff24cb3c39e71677da7c7The idea of creating a Pandora station with these three songs and hearing what songs would be played via their algorithm really intrigued me.

Games should be about the unknown.

Music can often play a strong part in films and television.

So, I wanted to design a game that did this also (Ribbon Drive by the incredible Avery McDaldno is a game that also uses music very effectively.)

I wanted to play with this.

Music would be one of the randomizers.

Music would help drive the fiction of the story.

This story would end at some point in time, a time hinted at, but not known exactly.

Players had to do something before the story was over, rather, they would end up doing something before the story was over.

“A cross-country road trip before reporting for duty.”

Screenshot 2016-07-18 13.25.22

“The man who killed Gramma on her birthday is due to leave the country in one day.”

Screenshot 2016-07-18 13.29.30

“The alarms have been tripped, the police will arrive in 15 minutes, and the safe is not yet cracked.”

Screenshot 2016-07-18 13.31.55

“The annual dance marathon.”

Screenshot 2016-06-10 14.13.17

I have worked with a timing mechanics as one method of driving action in specific ways in game design before, I would do this again.

All of these scenarios have a very specific end-point.

The end is coming, but we may not know exactly when.

Film/ Television Influences: Streets of Fire (anachronistic), Miami Vice (TV), Reservoir Dogs, Before Sunrise, 25th Hour, Run Lola Run, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Twin Peaks.

This is a game. It is a game of narrative control. It is a game about communally telling a story. It is a game about working towards the inevitable. It is a game about audio immersion.

What happens when the road trip adds a hitch-hiker?

Screenshot 2016-07-18 13.44.03

What happens with the man who killed Gramma wasn’t alone in the car?

Screenshot 2016-07-18 13.42.19

What happens when it is discovered the bank manager and the getaway driver are having an affair?

Screenshot 2016-07-18 13.35.36

What happens under the bleachers at the dance marathon?

Screenshot 2016-06-10 14.13.53

It’s not whether or not you win or lose, it’s how you play the game…

I wrote like mad, I was inspired. Technology was using music as a Randomizer, the Alarm was the end of the song signifying a shift in narrator, Dance was the use of music, and Sunlight was the Scenario coming to a clearly defined end. Additionally, accessibility was encouraged. Aside from the GM (called quaintly the DJ) everything else would be accessible to those who might have vision issues. The music and the narration were the keys to the game. No character sheets. No writing. Just talking. Telling a story. Storytelling, if you will.

DanceTilDawn_cover_2(1)And then, I noticed the 4,000 word limit, and I was over 6,500 words. So, I rewrote it, and cleaned it up.

I called in a favor, and I had a cover. I taught myself a desktop publishing program, and I laid the whole thing out.

It was complete.

I didn’t advance to the semifinals.

But, does that make me think my game was incomplete?

No. I have run it several times, and each time everyone enjoyed themselves, one game even had several players holding back tears.

I printed up 50 as an ashcan version.

Screenshot 2016-06-10 14.12.55

I am going to go back with the reviews from Game Chef and clean some stuff up, not restricted by the word limit, but I am happy with the feedback, both from reviewers and others that were interested.

Feels Fiasco-ish (that’s a compliment) but the singletons mechanic is a great twist — love the idea of one player getting to ferret away the Z.

Many of the entries had a setting more closely tied to the theme and ingredients, and that is cool. One entry used sketch as in comedy sketch, which is awesome (I read it as to draw). I am proud of my incorporation of theme and ingredients and accessibility.

Screenshot 2016-06-10 14.13.08

Dance ‘Til Dawn is an RPG designed to emulate Scenarios that have a definitive end. Music will be played in the background of the game, and this music can influence the story as it unfolds, both in mood and details. Players will be aware of the passage of time throughout the Scenario, and will collectively explore the world and Scenario and the conflict(s) present within.

In addition to being an FCC-licensed DJ, I was also active in zines “back in the day,” so if you’d like a print copy, and you live in these United States, send $6 and your address to: Barak Blackburn, PO Box 43, Deerfield, MA 01342.

Screenshot 2016-06-10 14.14.36

I will be publishing it as a pdf at some point and hope to run it through Indie Games On Demand at Gencon.

It was a successful exercise for me, and I look forward to next year.


Game the Game: Pandemic Legacy

I love Pandemic. One Thanksgiving break, I played it with my friend Scott into the wee hours of the morning.

If you ever ask me if I want to watch Boogie Nights, or any of the Mad Max movies, I will say yes. If you ever ask me if I want to play Pandemic, I will say yes.

Now, with all of these hours playing, came some ideas on how to best play the game. Ideal combinations of characters if you will. I have my own ideas, if you have played the game you may very well have your own ideas.

Then, along came Pandemic Legacy.

$50 or so for a game you can only play through once.

Gamers are notoriously thrifty, so many might cry at this, to which I offer up: tickets to see the latest nerd film in 3d with soda and popcorn= about $50. A meal out with a couple drinks= about $50. The newest video game that might provide less than 100 hours of playtime= more than $50.

Suck it up and stop being so cheap.

Now, there are two different boxes (red and blue), all reports indicate they are the same, I only have the red box, so I cannot say for sure.

The Legacy concept of board games in a nutshell is that each game played changes the rules in some way, so the next time the game is played, it is different. What this means in Pandemic, is that there is a story and narrative. It elevates the game in awesome ways!

And what I can say about Pandemic Legacy is:


Brilliant game design. This is one of those games that gave me all the nerd feels. I wanted to play all the time (as Ellie can attest). I played some with Mike, and some with Ellie, and I am not ashamed to admit it, I played alone.

I am not ashamed. Rich Sommer (Harry Crane from TV’s Mad Men) enjoys the experience of playing board games solo, and so do I.

Now, I don’t want to give away any major spoilers, but know this, even having played through it once, I want to do it again. I won’t “Game the Game” and use what I know, because I enjoy the narrative elements and how they played out. I did learn a couple things, such as what to focus on, but at the end of the day, Pandemic’s brilliance, is that no matter how carefully orchestrated a tactic is, the game design is such that it can all go to shit, no matter what.

What can I say, and what advice might I give?

Pick a theme for the characters. We used the Fantastic Four for our characters. As the game develops, this becomes even cooler, and Doom does enter the picture. Minor Spoilers below. In Mike’s game, we went with DC, with a roster of characters that is indeed a bit of hodge podge: Oracle, Jason Todd, Blue Beetle, Lois Lane, and Skeletor Dr. Destiny. I loved picking folks for my game, and it definitely added to the experience.

[spoiler] As gameplay continues, more characters are added to the game, and these characters have relationships with the characters already in the game. The roster in my game expanded to include Banner, Cap, and Namor.[/spoiler]

All that said, Reed and Valeria were the most frequently used characters, and how cute is that?

I won’t give any more advice, and I won’t share my secret of which roles we found to be most effective. Did we screw some things up? Yes. It happens. When upgrading diseases, start at 1 and add upgrades in order. And, don’t forget the effect of the Player Deck. [spoiler] when dealing with outbreaks[/spoiler]#vague

As I work on games of my own, I am always looking to incorporate ideas I find compelling. Pandemic Legacy and The Quiet Year are two games that I am currently looking to for inspiration, wondering how I might create something with some of these same nerd feels.

On our podcast, we discussed what other games could benefit from the Legacy type gameplay. More to the point, Pandemic has teased us with further seasons. This is after all, Season 1. It says so right on the box. I cannot wait for Season 2.  Please.

And, if you really want a very large spoiler, but without too much specific spoilery info: