This last weekend was the Needy Cat Game Jam for Needy Cats, a 48 hour board game jam in support of a local animal charity, the Feline and Wildlife Rescue Nottingham. There were about thirty entrants and fourteen final entries, and it raised £200 for charity which is a great result. James and Sophie from Needy Cat Games are going to judge the games submitted over the next week or so and declare a winner. They’ve got a tough job ahead of them, because what I saw in the discord channel we had was uniformly of an excellent standard.
I just wanted to take a moment to talk about my experience taking part, and how it compared to other game jams and hackathons I’ve taken part in in the past.
I’m no stranger to a game jam, having taken part in about ten Ludum Dare computer game jams over the last seven years. They are typically very stressful affairs, with technical issues providing the leading cause of stress ahead of any actual game design related issues. I’ve spoken in the past about how computer games are some of the most complicated pieces of software generally written, with absurd performance requirements and a shoestring technical budget.
Despite being the same length, the Needy Cat jam was positively sedate. The closest I got to a technical hurdle to cross was fighting with InDesign and that’s more my inexperience with the subject. Hell, despite art not being a consideration for the judging I still ended up spending about two hours hand painting some tiles for the game and didn’t feel like I was unfairly disadvantaged, and still had time to do other stuff during the weekend.
It also helped that the community was necessarily smaller. Even a small Ludum Dare has hundreds of competitors, the chatroom for this jam maxed out at 22 people including one of the organisers. And the judging mechanism (a small group of subject matter experts judging all the entries) helps resolve one of my major concerns with other game jams, namely that the entrant who can drive the most traffic wins.
There’s also a perennial issue whereby jams often have unofficial styles and popular, slick entries that match the expected game style do better regardless of their adherence to the theme than rougher, innovative entries that attempt to interact meaningfully with it. But also I feel like Ludum Dare is exceptionally well positioned to create bad themes and it’s position in a specific kind of indie computer game development scene doesn’t help with this.
Closing off, I was glad to have entered and I think that I’d like to take part in more board game jams in the future. You can download a three page print and play version of my game Rewilding and I’d love to hear your feedback on it if you do. I like the concept enough that I will likely keep working on it.