Game Chef Concept (Workshop Wrap-up, 5/10)

by Loren Norman on Monday, May 12, 2014

For this week's workshop, we focused on Game Chef. None of us have ever competed in a game design competition before, so we started by reviewing the rules, past winners, judging procedure, and of course, this year's theme and ingredients!

Reviewing last year's winner: Encho

Theme & Ingredients

Game Chef features a theme and 4 ingredients that competitors are expected to incorporate into their designs.

Theme: "There is no book."

The intention here is to avoid a central rules reference for the game (looking at you, traditional role-playing games!) But there's nothing stopping a designer from interpreting it literally thematically: "in a world without books..."


  • absorb
  • glitter
  • sickle
  • wild

These are pretty straightforward, but glitter seems to be the most confounding to the designers discussing things over on the Game Chef Google+.

At this point, we felt that we understood what was being asked of us. It was time to brainstorm... Oil & Rope-style!

Crazy Eights

At the Oil & Rope Game Design Workshop, we love... LOVE doing Crazy Eights. No, it's not some hip new designer drug (or a boring card game for that matter); it's a group brainstorming activity that actually works. We'll write it up some day, but if you'd like to learn more about it now you can get a glimpse of how it works from this Google Ventures process writeup.

Game Chef ideas that came out of our Crazy Eights session:

  • "Death Goes to the Prom": a one-shot RPG that's like an 80's slasher flick where Death works his (or her?) way through cliche'd prom queen wannabes (because: sickle and glitter)
  • come as you are: an RPG system where your stats are generated from your intrinsic, real-world attributes. weight and height could determine strength and charisma, respectively, as a trivial example. broaden it though, any arbitrary-but-measurable thing could generate a stat: clothing items, number of pets, third number of zip code, etc.
  • gravity: throw some dice and use their values as their mass, commensurately pulling other dice towards them. "absorb" is an obvious outcome here.
  • Sickle-Cell-o-Phone: a game of telephone where rules are mutated intentionally as they pass from player to player
  • chrono-powers: each player has special powers they can invoke ONLY at certain times of the day. have a clock with hands in the room, then make up powers that can only be used when the second, minute, or hour hands are between certain numbers.
  • a game where each player has one page of rules: there's no book to bind the pages together, so we have to figure out the game together!
  • The Glittery Sickle: each player competes to design the prettiest sickle
  • a simple 52-card game where each player secretly gets an extra rule about how they may play. players are attempting to guess the rule that each other player is bound by.

After pitching all of our concepts at each other and remixing things a bit, we pulled out an idea that we thought was actionable.

Die Wild

We play-tested the "gravity" idea from above, and couldn't get it to work with a reasonably fun play progression. Sometimes a game just doesn't "work", ya know?

Die Wild

So we dropped the gravity element and added an attacking element! Toss your die into the ring. If it contacts another die, congratulations! You've just made an attack. Subtract the dice values from each other. If either are reduced to zero, the die is removed. If the attacker can take out another die without being itself destroyed, the attacking player scores a point. First to whatever wins.

Or, you know. First to whatever whatevers. Or the defender can make a point by eliminating an attacker. Or you win by having 3 more dice on the table than your opponents. Or if whatever whatever then whatever whatever.

Chris and Chanse carefully preparing attacks

The point is, this game actually "worked", that is, the players knew what to do when their turn came up (aim for a weak die and throw!) It feels like you're playing marbles but with some simple math added to the raw dexterity game. We didn't really know what we were playing for, or how to form strategies, but what the heck, it's fun to throw dice at dice!

It's also got a lovely "bring whatever you have" nature: any old bag of dice will work. (ahem) We prototyped with D6s, but the usual array of RPG-dice would readily work with the system. In fact, this article about ammo-tracking provides another interesting example for using polyhedra!

Differently-sized dice are interesting, too! A large die is obviously going to be easier to target things with than a tiny one, but a tiny one will be harder to target later. Is there an informal dice-building game here?

Chanse bringing down the hammer

As for the the theme ("there is no book"), we thought to include a one-page pdf for the game. You fold it over 4 times to get a sturdy, narrow strip of paper. One side has a "ruler" for the game (this is more meaningful with the gravity rules), and the reverse has the 2 to 5 rules required to play the game. VoilĂ ! No book, an entire game on a single, printable sheet of paper, playable with materials any household already has (dice). For bonus points, we could include a blurb on the thing about being useful as a bookmark... you know, if books existed!

Suffice to say, we feel pretty confident that we can polish this up enough to be coherent and fun in the next week.

Bonus: "THE NEW SCUM" Playtest Session with Nick!

Nick took a Megabus up to Toronto a couple weekends ago to participate in TOJam, and he brought his contest submission back for us to test! Dubbed "THE NEW SCUM", it's a head-to-head PC game that is played with 2 mice (...mouses? meese.) He dropped us in front of it and said "figure it out". And figure it out we did! We played perhaps a dozen matches, and to everyone's great amusement, Rittelmeyer literally never won.

Way to go to a foreign place and code up a fun game all by yourself in a weekend, Nick!

Chanse and Chris face off

Another great day at the game design workshop. When will we see you there?

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