Looking back on Game Chef 2014

Game Chef has always been an interesting event for me. It rarely seems to happen at a convenient time and sometimes the topics leave me cold. That nearly happened this year. The theme “there is no book” was cute. Unfortunately it didn’t provide me much of an inventive seed, the same could be said of many of the games I’ve design over the past few years. The ingredient terms were likewise uninspiring (for me), until I hit upon an a link to an old design I had abandoned – wild becomes wild magic tables.

I’ve always been fond of wild magic tables, which lay out a variety of types of strange and wondrous magical effects which can be selected from on a simple roll of dice. In my own more traditional gaming I’ve found a few tables of random magical categories, alignments, and elements serve as an excellent way to produce exotic magic. But something about a 100+ table of effects is still enticing, especially in what it says about a world. And why not use a design competition to give me the kick in the pants needed to complete a game idea that has lingered undone.

To that effect I designed From Chaos for Game Chef 2014 as a world-building game where the final artifact is the wild magic table. From Chaos steals words and phrases from books, music, or gaming supplies to craft this eccentric table. And in the four rounds of world creation it returns to an idea I’ve used before in Inner Worlds, that of ‘conflicts as resource’.

A few years ago, the typical indie games adhered to the notion that conflict is important in a story, so the game should be built to focus on resolving those conflicts during play. But if conflicts are the core of a story, should be keep them around, let them grow and transform? With ‘conflicts as resource’, conflicts are created, changed, expanded, and perhaps resolved. There is an incentive to keep conflicts around, and to sustain them through multiple actions and situations.

Like most Game Chefs, I found reviews to be time consuming, because I didn’t want to simply provide cursory judgement and minimal feedback to my fellow designers. But focusing on this feedback, while also reading the Anatomy of Criticism (by Northrop Frye) put me into a thought spiral. One thing RPGs lack these days is serious critical analysis. I’m seriously considering doing something about that…