Board Game Jam: This Weekend in Toronto

board game jam

If you’re in the Toronto area and have been thinking about getting into game development, whether for “stationary” devices like desktops, laptops and consoles or “mobile” devices such as tablets, slates and phones, you might want to go attend this weekend’s Board Game Jam, which takes place in Toronto this weekend.

Once the sole province of enthusiasts, game are very popular these days. Console sales are doing very well, the Kinect is selling extremely well, gamer culture has found its way into popular culture as evidenced by chiptunes and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and events like GamerCamp (which took place in Toronto in November) are attracting more than just the hardcore nerd crowd.

When people talk about games, the first thing that comes to mind is videogames. After all, they’re big business, and people are playing them everywhere – at home, at work (who hasn’t snuck in a quick round at the office?) and now, with mobile devices, whenever they’ve got some downtime. Videogames are great, but there’s more to gaming.


Board games are currently enjoying a renaissance. According to The Economist, board games sales in 2008 exceeded USD$800 million and have been growing 20% each year. Settlers of Catan, which was once for the Dungeons and Dragons crowd only, is now a hipster hobby, there’s a very healthy selection of board games at Toys ‘R’ Us and there are crowds at Toronto’s board game café, Snakes and Lattes. Just as videogames have their own special charms, so do board games – they may be made of plastic and cardboard instead of pixels and data, but in both, it’s the gameplay that makes or breaks them.

Gameplay is what Board Game Jam is all about, and since it’s about making board games rather than videogames, this gathering will make game design accessible to just about everyone. As the organizers say, “On a mechanical level, it’s simple arts and crafts.” The bigger point of Board Game Jam is to explore the gameplay aspects of game development. What makes a game fun? How do you balance challenge, playability, simplicity, complexity and sociability? Can you build a game by taking a classic and applying a little twist to it, or would you rather build something completely different?

If you’re thinking of building games for the PC, phone or Xbox, you could learn a lot at Board Game Jam. As the organizers put it:

Most of the time, we’re talking about videogames. Because videogames are awesome. But it’s easy to forget that the principles that underlie good game-making don’t necessarily involve realistic physics engines, or even good control schemes. Much of game design has to do with abstract rules and mechanics that don’t have anything to do with technology.

Here’s what’s happening at Board Game Jam:

  • Saturday
    • Morning: A crash course in board game design
    • Afternoon and evening: Make a board game
  • Sunday
    • Morning and afternoon: Finish those board games
    • Evening: Board game party – the public plays the games built at Board Game Jam!

(The full schedule for Board Game Jam is here.)

Board Game Jam takes place this Saturday and Sunday, January 29th and 30th at the George Brown School of Design, 230 Richmond Street East, Toronto. The early bird price is no longer available, but the “late bird” price is still a mere CAD$20. If you’d like to attend (I’ll be there, at least for the crash course in board game design, where I plan to take copious notes and blog them), you should register for the event at their EventBrite page.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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