board game jamI love a good game jam. These mini-competitions are among my favorite things to do. Game Chef, the DFW Nerd Night game design contest, the Tabletop Deathmatch…give me a design competition and I’m there – watching if not participating.

That’s because I think there’s something magical that happens when you bring together time and focus. Setting a challenge means you put ideas together that might never have occurred to you spontaneously. It’s especially good when there’s a random element – a theme or set of inspiration that’s sufficiently broad to inspire you and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Our game Rocket Cats in Space was inspired by the theme “travel” and the fun of flicking discs around a board – in fact, it started life as “Flick It to Ride”.

One thing I’ve been doing for the past year or so that helps break me out of a rut when I’m stuck on a game is to have a mini game jam just for myself. Like writing exercises or sketching, the point isn’t to be perfect or to come up with a fully fledged game, but to find disparate sources of inspiration and bring them together to come up with something cool. Here are a few ways I’ve done that:

Board Game Name Generator

This tool pulls two game names from the Board Game Geek database and mashes them together. Not only is it incredibly amusing, some of the names are amazingly inspirational. “Thank God You’re Terrorists” – what kind of horrible game would have that title? “The Game of Russian Bear” – why is the bear Russian? Do bears secretly have nationalities? What if a bear was a spy? (That line of thinking is what led to BEARanoia.)

Wikipedia Smash

This is one of my favorite writing exercises and now one of my favorite DIY game jams. You hit the “Random Article” on Wikipedia twice – three times if you’re feeling saucy – and make a game out of the articles you get. Women of Faith + Milldale Limestone = some kind of cultist game where you need to protect monuments. (While you get a lot of names and specific institutions with this one, I like to keep it loose and use the idea – so that a page on Ohio’s 22nd Senatorial District becomes “politics” or “a race for the Senate” or “living in a really, really boring state”.)

What’s In This Room?

Can you design a game using just what’s in the space you’re currently in? What about a game that only uses things you can currently touch without moving your body? What about a game that uses the first two things you see as components? Get board game inspiration using totally non-traditional piece and see what inspires you about your everyday life.

Roll and Make

Got 2d6? Write down 6 random design mechanics and 6 random board game themes, then roll 2d6 and make a game with the resulting two numbers. A Western 4X? A roll-and-move time travel game? Who knows – this could inspire you to create something totally new (or at least try designing for a new board game mechanic or explored game theme).

DIY Game Jams for All!

Of course, there are plenty of ways to run your own board game jam. You can do it yourself at home, invite some friends over and have a mini-competition, or even host a game design competition on Board Game Geek. Or you can use the idea of a “jam” to simply break yourself out a rut.

What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired? What ideas do you have for generating quick on-the-go inspiration for board game design? What game would you make out of Wikipedia? Let’s have some fun in the comments. 🙂

Jasmine Davis

Jasmine Davis is a writer and game designer in Pittsburgh, PA. You can find Jasmine’s own thoughts on her website, read her thoughts on other people’s games at Play Unplugged, or check out her latest designs at PlayPBJ.com. You can also follow her on Twitter – she’s @athingforjaz.

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  1. Norv Brooks on August 7, 2015

    Wikipedia Smash – I didn’t know about the Radom Article tool in Wikipedia. So, I tried it. I got “Wickford” a commuter town close to London, and George (lobster) born approximately 1869. George was owned by a New York City restaurant for a short period of time before releasing it back into the wild. The challenge of combining these two subject into a game design started to fry my brain just thinking on it. Great article, Jasmine!

    • Jasmine on August 7, 2015

      Thanks Norv! What a fun combo – I’m thinking like, steampunk lobsters? Could be a super fun theme for a game! You’re a steampunk lobster trying to prolong your life by building or buying life-extending pills and contraptions. Super weird!

  2. Elizabeth on August 7, 2015

    Love this! I have been known to surf the Board Game Design Idea Generator at http://www.boardgamizer.com/ just for fun, some days…but random Wikipedia articles certainly throws the theme possibilities wide open!

    • Jasmine on August 7, 2015

      Fun stuff! It’s interesting to see if you can come up with something that meets all the criteria listed.

  3. Pat Marino on August 7, 2015

    On my website I have a tool I made in excel called the game idea generator – it pulls random themes and mechanic types from the lists at BGG and makes a suggestion. I find it a fun way to get ideas flowing. You can find it here http://guilderlandgames.weebly.com/resources.html Download the excel and just use the ‘recalculate’ formula’s button to generate a new random idea.

    • Jasmine on August 7, 2015

      Pat, this is awesome! Thanks for creating and sharing!

  4. Joachim Heise on August 7, 2015

    I tried the BGG generator for a few spins. Here are the fruits of my curation:

    Days of Our Lives Dodgeball. I chose to take this one at face value. Perhaps some weird form of dodgeball played under a faux-redwood mezzanine wearing dinner jackets, cigarettes hanging idly from our sneering lips, with ritual pauses for story game elements.

    Diplomacy: Bazooka Bill Expansion. Ummmm… Nope, got nothin. Just, wow.

    Squid Drop: Battle of the Alma. The Crimean War will be won by the aliens, no doubt of that. The question is, which alien faction will infect, enslave, or infiltrate the most humans along the way? Assassinate and replace prominent figures like the Russian General Aleksandr Sergeyevich Menshikov, rain illithid paratroopers down upon unsuspecting battalions on either side of the river, or find and hyperevolve your diluvial cousins in the murky waters of that selfsame river, to arise in the late game as a true military force to be reckoned with. A 2-4 player, semi-cooperative area control deck-builder.

  5. Chris Rowlands on August 7, 2015

    At GenCon I picked up the Unpub game from Dice Hate Me. It’s basically like Snake Oil or But Wait, There’s More…except with Board Game mechanics, themes, and components. It’s a great exercise!

  6. Nicolas on August 8, 2015

    Love the board game name generator! Got good name like, Catterpillar age of chomp! Gnome exchange! And Robocup cry!

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