Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November Is Gaming Overdrive Month

November’s a busy time for gamer types. Two web-based movements -- Solo Tabletop Gaming Appreciation Month and National Game Design Month (NaGa DeMon) -- aim to boost awareness about their particular facets of gaming (another event -- National Gaming Day @ your Library on November 12 -- seeks to promote the growth of gaming programs in libraries). These fantastic endeavors not only inspire gamers of all levels to challenge themselves to complete new projects, in many cases they result in free gaming resources or at least some additional awareness and inspiration about other gaming forms. But events with such deep participatory commitment coming all in the same month can overtax enthusiastic gamers and diminish the effect of particular movements.
November Gaming Endeavors
Claiming a particular month to raise awareness about a certain issue is an effective strategy in our society. So it makes sense that two particular movements in gaming choose a month; and while November makes sense for NaGa Demon, since it mirrors the novel-based NaNoWriMo movement, also in November, I’m not quite sure why November also became the banner month for solitaire gaming. These efforts have two main results: they foster discussion about games and they create new gaming materials, in many cases offered for free on the internet.
The blog Solo Nexus has declared November Solo Tabletop Gaming Appreciation Month with the goal of offering resources, rules, and reports to encourage new players to try solo gaming while energizing experienced players to try newer and more comprehensive solo gaming endeavors. The blog challenged gamers to publicly commit to some kind of solitaire gaming experience:
Plan to use the whole month to finally paint those minis in the box on the shelf or try that rule set you bought last year or complete a fully-documented solo RPG adventure or design your own solo CCG with that software you’ve had your eye on or create the best after-action report of a solo battle ever or - well, you get the idea!
During November the site’s charting its author’s explorations of playing Marvel Heroclix with solitaire rules; he also provides links to other blogs with reports about solitaire gaming. Other predominantly solitaire gaming blogs have also mentioned this challenge; for those aficionados of solitaire gaming, they not only provide a focus on that subject in November but all year round.
November is also National Game Design Month (NaGa DeMon), inspired by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Writer, podcaster, and game designer Nathan Russell challenges gamers “to create and play your own boardgame, RPG, flash computer game, choose-your-own-adventure book, wargame, cardgame or other distracting novelty.”
Both challenges and their associated websites lack a core element to help build a community and foster dialogue: they don’t provide an online forum to serve as a community space for folks to discuss their activities (other than the comments section of individual blog posts). Interested bystanders and fellow participants must track down efforts or follow occasional links from the original challenge websites. For instance, Stargazer, principle blogger over at Stargazer’s World, has taken up the NaGa DeMon challenge and committed to blogging about it at the site; but savvy gamers have to track down that and other efforts to chart others’ progress in the challenge.
On the Horizon
Several other challenges occur during the year; while I’m thankful they don’t occur in November, too, they serve as inspiring opportunities to dare ourselves as gamers to try something new and expand our creative boundaries.
Windhammer Prize: Sponsored by arborell.com since 2008, the Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction encourages authors to write and submit their original solo gamebooks for the prize, awarded to the entry with the most reader votes. November marks the month when the site announces the winners; new guidelines are posted in March, while the submission period opens in August and closes in September, with reader votes accepted from mid-September to late October. The site provides extensive guidelines for entry formats as well as details on deadlines, prizes, and voting. While this contest provides a challenge to those seeking to design a solo gamebook, the Windhammer Prize also gives to fans of this genre a host of free gamebooks as many past and current award-winning or noteworthy entries remain available online for download.
One Page Dungeon Contest: This contest challenges participants to create an entire dungeon complete with map, descriptive key, and other notes all on one page. Participants submit their entries by the April 1 deadline, when a panel of judges reviews all dungeons and chooses the most notable entries in a variety of categories. Don’t let the contest page fool you…despite its minimalist look the One Page Dungeon Contest (1PDC) inspires a host of entries and publishes them in two PDF downloads, one featuring only the award-winning entries alone and another containing all the entries submitted. Some dungeons have truly amazing map artwork, while others incorporate innovative adventure designs. With dungeons eschewing game stats, gamers can incorporate them into nearly any game system. Hobby Games Recce has featured the One Page Dungeon Contest before as fostering a nostalgic love of maps and getting back to the roots of the old school roleplaying game movement.
BGG Solo Boardgame Contest: Over the summer the encyclopedic BoardGameGeek site hosted a Solitaire Print and Play Contest to encourage designers to create, discuss, and submit designs for solo board games. The contest page, being a forum post, offers a space where designers can discuss their works and the contest in general, but isn’t really a good home page for past or future contest information; to find entries available for download requires going to the game’s page at BoardGameGeek and scrolling down to the files section (though this assumes the game’s freely available and not adapted for sale elsewhere). The site doesn’t make it clear if this is the first year hosting the contest or if it will re-occur next year. Overall the challenge to design a solitaire print and play boardgame can inspire creativity and provide some free gaming material to fans of this genre; but BoardGameGeek could further encourage future efforts with a web page dedicated to the contest and more easily accessible from the BGG home page.
Scheduling Creativity
While these movements and contests can challenge and inspire game enthusiasts to pursue creative efforts, they can also prove discouraging to those who don’t normally work to a deadline or who wish to participate in more than one. Instead gamers should look at past contest deadlines and challenge themselves to creative endeavors on their own schedule, sticking to the other guidelines for the activity.
Creativity isn’t easily forced. Many times an idea germinates and percolates, but must wait for a combination of ample time to come out onto paper (so to speak) with a suitable spark of inspiration and enthusiasm. Sometimes these contests come at a point where a designer has a few ideas percolating that fit the parameters and can be further focused; other times these movements offer a different perspective to re-focus a designer’s course for a project concept.
For instance, I love the concept of a one-page dungeon, but the timing doesn’t fit with my hectic schedule and my limited free time for creative endeavors. So I incorporated the goal of creating a one-page scenario into my occasional task of designing new adventures to run at local conventions. I had three concepts for three different games I run; two produced one-page scenarios while the third (ironically enough the most dungeon-oriented of the three) ran to a page and a half. In my eyes I fulfilled the guidelines of the one-page dungeon challenge (though I doubt either of the two are award-winning) while also completing a task on my own gaming “To-Do” list.
Here’s another example. The challenge from Solo Tabletop Gaming Appreciation Month and my general awareness of the BoardGameGeek Solitaire Print and Play Contest coincided with some inspiration from a World War II magazine article and my nostalgic feelings toward Avalon Hill’s classic solitaire wargame B-17: Queen of the Skies (about which I’ve opined before). I started developing a table-driven game along similar lines for a different theater of the war. It’s taking a little longer to develop to my satisfaction, especially since I’m considering offering it for sale online for a nominal price when it’s complete; but I’d never have really considered it without prodding from outside influences.
In both cases calendar-based events inspired me to further focus my game-design efforts along lines I wouldn’t normally consider.