2012 Contest Rules

Last Chance Game Chef

A summary of the guidelines for this year’s competition. Full details follow below.
As part of the special arrangement this year, the rules are also available in Italian, here.

  • Theme: Last Chance — Design your game as if it might only be played once. After all, the world is going to end.
  • Ingredients: There are two sets of four ingredients this year. Use 4 ingredients, split across the two sets any way you like (including all from one set):
    • Coyote, Doctor, Lantern, Mimic.
    • four random game design threads from The Forge (a unique set generated independently for each chef or team of collaborating chefs).
  • Maximum Length: 3,000 words, plus supplemental play materials.
  • Discussions: Talk about Game Chef wherever you want, as much or as little as you like, but there is a dedicated discussion forum on the Forge.
  • Submission: Submit your game by midnight (your time zone) April 15th.
  • Peer Review: Participants will be randomly assigned 4 games to read, and will recommend 1 game to go on to the second round.
  • Winners: The games with the most recommendations (3 or 4) will be closely reviewed by Game Chef founder Mike Holmes and the current Master Chef, to determine the overall winner.

The Full Details

The Basics
Design and submit a playable draft of an “analog” (non-electronic) game between April 7th-15th, inspired by the theme and ingredients listed below.

Acceptable Types of Games
Historically, most games have been tabletop roleplaying games or something close to that, but the divisions between different types of “analog” games (board games, card games, RPGs, larps) are breaking down, partially due to the innovative work of past Game Chef participants. Consequently, submit any crazy hybrid game you like, as long as the peer-reviewers and judges will be able to understand and potentially play your game without having to acquire any materials that are too costly or specialized. There’s likely to be some pro-RPG bias from the peer-reviewers, but winning is also not very important, so design whatever game you feel most strongly about.

2012 Theme: Last Chance
The competition this year is called “Last Chance Game Chef” and the theme instructions are to design your game as if it might only be played once, inspired in part by the intrigue over the Mayan long-count calendar supposedly ending in 2012. This theme was also on my mind for other reasons, and I’m going to briefly explain those here. Bear with me, this is my last chance to pontificate as the Master Chef! These are not additional rules or guidelines, since you are free to interpret the theme based on whatever implications it has for you.

When I first went to GenCon in 2006 and met the great folks on the Forge in person, I roomed with a comrade who — at the time — just recently had a brain tumor removed, with the scars to prove it. The surgery went well and he had a jolly disposition about the whole thing, but those memories definitely come up when I think about my relationship with the Forge. In addition, as I was writing up the guidelines for Game Chef this year, I learned that another close gaming friend was in the hospital with a terrible case of pneumonia and a collapsed lung, though he’s since returned home and seems to be doing well. Consequently, in addition to the Forge, I’d like to dedicate Game Chef this year to all our friends and family who have recently experienced a harrowing change in their lives and hope that the creative works and play that comes out of this competition create some good karma in the world to help balance out the bad.

I don’t mean to be morbid or depressing, but it seems fitting, as we host a rowdy “wake” for the Forge, to recognize how ephemeral our experiences of this hobby are. We get together in small groups with other people and then have these irreplicable experiences — which can never effectively be recorded even on video since participation and interaction is so critical — and then we seperate and go back to our daily lives. Sometimes we have every intention of continuing to play games together, but people move, their lives become busy, you lose interest, or the group plays again but it’s not the same. The online and in-person communities that exist around games are similar, and the Forge closing is a great example. Discussions, design, and play (and Game Chef!) continues, but the people and locations change. While it’s sometimes sad, it’s also natural, inevitable, and kind of beautiful.

My hope is that the theme this year can allow you to focus on design now, if you’ll let me coin a phrase (inspired, of course, by Ron’s “story now”). Don’t worry about eventually publishing your game, setting up a long-term campaign, or any other concerns other than creating one terrific session of play for one lucky group of individuals. Embrace the emphemeral nature of play and create the only thing that we really leave behind: memories of a shared experience. That doesn’t mean your game has to necessarily be a one-shot (it can be, of course), but it does mean that if your game is about — to pick a completely random example — dungeons and dragons, there should probably be both dungeons and dragons in the first session, since it might be the only chance you get.

Anyway, that’s my slightly embarrassing and sentimental wake speech. (It probably reads better if you are somewhat drunk.) Back to design!

2012 Ingredients: A New Format
This year, Game Chef asks participants to use 4 ingredients, split however you like across the following two lists:

Set One
• Coyote
• Doctor
• Lantern
• Mimic

Set Two
Four random game design threads from The Forge (a unique set generated independently for each chef or team of collaborating chefs).

Since the Forge threads are generated anew each time you access the linked page, I recommend opening the links in new tabs or windows and bookmarking your set so that you don’t lose them. If you do clink through or otherwise lose your initial four random threads: don’t panic. Just go back to the page and it will generate new random threads for you, to replace whichever ones you missed. No random thread is any less random than any other, but try to use the threads you’re initially assigned, rather than hitting “refresh” until you get a set you like.

A couple more words on the Forge threads — which are drawn from both the “Indie Game Design” and “First Thoughts” forums — if you get a really long thread or one that you don’t really follow (due to jargon or difficult language or whatever reason), either choose not to use that “ingredient” or focus just on the main point raised by the original poster. Including every interesting idea in your threads is probably way too much. Just use whatever central thought stands out in your mind after reading it.

For designers who find themselves strongly drawn to one set or the other, Master Sous Chef Joe Mcdaldno will choose the winner of the Lopsided Inspiration Award, given to both the best game that uses all 4 word ingredients and also to the best game that uses all 4 thread ingredients.

Try to incorporate the ingredients as centrally as you can, as part of the premise or the rules or however else makes sense to you. A passing reference is okay if that’s all you can come up with, but really drawing strongly on the ingredients is suggested.

For example, the 2004 ingredients were [ice, island, dawn, assault], which ended up inspiring games like The Mountain Witch (climbing icy Mount Fuji to assault the witch’s fortress), The Dance and the Dawn (try to find your true love at an island social gathering, hoping that — when dawn breaks — you don’t end up with the one that has a heart of ice), and Polaris (arctic elves struggle against themselves and a demonic assault, with the dawn finally coming for the first time in hundreds of years).

Rule on Length
The main text of your game should be 3,000 words or less, but you may also include additional materials in the form of maps, diagrams, play sheets, etc. The word limit is in place so you can spend any additional time revising and polishing rather than turning out additional, half-baked material. We’re not going to conduct a word count on your game and disqualify you but, please, this is for the good of your game as well as the sanity of your reviewers, who have jobs, lives, families, etc.

Rule on Previous Work
You may draw on concepts you have thought about or worked on before the contest, but everything you submit must be new work, not existing material. Plagiarism or self-plagiarism will get your game disqualified.

Rule on Intellectual Property
It is ultimately the designer’s responsibility to deal with all rights-related issues. Including excerpts from public domain or open source content is fine, as long as it’s cited. Drawing inspiration from other games is also fine, but be sure to give credit and put it in your own words.

Design Discussions
There is a dedicated forum set up for discussing Game Chef 2012 at the Forge (our previous home from 2002-2004 and the most popular place for discussions in 2010 and 2011). Other options include Praxis, the RPGnet design forums, your own blog (if you have one), or whatever else you can think of.

I highly recommend sticking to a single thread per individual game rather than filling a forum with multiple threads about the same game concept. That makes it easier for everyone else to parse the forums and for the people interested in your game to find your most recent posts. Other threads for general discussion, open questions, and joshing each other are, of course, totally cool.

Game Submission
Games are due at midnight (in your own time zone) on April 15th and are submitted by posting a link to them in the 2012 Game Submission thread. Games should be submitted in PDF format or an audio or video format (mp3, mp4, mov) that reviewers can open without purchasing proprietary software. There are lots of ways to find a free place to host files these days, so find one or ask a friend with a website. I highly recommend the free blog service WordPress.com, which hosts the Game Chef website. Dropbox has also been popular in recent years.

Initial Reviewing
Once games are submitted, each chef will be assigned 4 games to review. (Games submitted in Italian, due to the special opportunity this year, will be assigned to other chefs submitting games in Italian.) You will have until Sunday, April 22nd to pick 1 of the 4 to recommend for the next round. Chefs who submit their games early will be assigned games to review as soon as they are available.

While reviewers are not required to explain their decisions to anyone (and should not be called on to defend their choices), it is good sportsmanship for reviewers to either publicly post a few thoughts on each game (what you liked, what you think could be improved) or send them privately to the games’ authors, so they can benefit and you can build contacts or relationships with other chefs.

Suggestions and advice on how to handle reviewing will come in the submission and review threads.

Picking Winners
The games that receive the most nominations will be reviewed by Mike Holmes and myself in the final round. Together, we will name one or two winners for this year’s contest. Additional awards may be awarded by a shadowy cabal of past Game Chef participants and/or Joe Mcdaldno.

Winning Game Chef is Like Winning the Nobel Prize
It’s great! But many folks who’ve won the Nobel Prize in Literature have books that are out of print. Indeed, nearly all past winning games — for one reason or another — have not gone on to fame and fortune, though their designers have done other neat stuff. Ultimately, whatever you do with your game after Game Chef is up to you. Winning is mostly a strong sign that folks in the community enjoy your work and are ready to support you.

A Few Final Thoughts
Remember, you are ultimately responsible for your own experience of Game Chef. I have tried to create a good environment, based on my own previous experiences and the hard work of the Master Chefs before me, but that only goes so far, especially since the contest has gotten too big for any one person to manage. So take the initiative, ask others for what you need (including me, but also your fellow chefs), create what you don’t have, participate in discussions as much as you like, walk away from discussions when they are distracting you from designing, and do what you need to do. This is your Game Chef, make it what you want it to be.

The comments below are for questions about the rules, which I will be very happy to answer. If you want to share your excitement about the contest, please do it on your favorite forum, blog, Twitter, etc.


20 responses to “2012 Contest Rules

  • shrikedesign

    I have a question about the Theme. In years past, it’s generally been something that wound up most heavily reflected in the game’s content and fictional topics.

    This year it sounds like the ingredients are intended for that purpose, with the Theme being a practical constraint on the form of play.

    Is that correct?

    Also, what does “only played once” mean?
    a) one session per group
    b) any number of sessions, as long as it ends and is then not played again by that group
    c) one group ever

    I can design a one-shot game, but I’d have no idea how to include (b) and (c) as relevant, key features of a game.

    • Jonathan Walton

      The theme is always pretty vague (in the past: Simulationism, Fantasy, Journey, etc.) to keep it from being yet another “ingredient” that you have to include, so you’re free to interpret it however you want. “One-shot” is a relatively straightforward way to interpret it and that’s totally fine. I was talking with a veteran chef earlier and we agreed that a lot of one-shots would probably come out of this contest, which is great and a good way to focus things for people relatively new to game design. But there could be other valid interpretations and I don’t really have any intention of clarifying it much more, since part of Game Chef is being open to where the theme and ingredients lead you, not closing off potential options.

      So: do as thou wilt!

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  • Ash

    Hmm. I’m liking set 1’s ingredients this year. Don’t know if I’ll complete a game (3k words is way short for me, even for a contest entry!) but I might have a go!


  • Matteo Suppo

    Are we limited to only one game? ò_O

  • Vincent

    I’ve designed a game for the contest, but it’s pretty personal and I’m not sure I want to make it public. (Yes, again.) Can I make it available only to the people assigned to judge it, or must I make it public in order to participate?

  • Troy_Costisick

    Jonathan, are there any rules for formatting and layout? I.E. should it just be plain text as much as possible or can we make it pretty if we want?



    • Jonathan Walton

      The reason we don’t have a “plain text” requirement is that some games require layout in the form of diagrams, maps, play materials, or just a rules text that is formatted a certain way (Sweet Agatha is a great example, but there are many others). That said, while people can do whatever they want, I suggest that folks make their layout as clean and simple as possible, both because it’s less distracting and because tight, clean layout makes you think of your game in tight, clean terms. Doing simple, solid formatting and layout can actually help clarify how to present you game, IME.

  • Joseph LeMay

    Do I HAVE to submit a link to the rules? We’ve spoken via email about my desire to keep the game scarce. Can I still qualify by just sending you an email with the file in it, which you can distribute as needed for review?

  • patmax17

    I’m participating with an italian game (which i still have to sumbit)
    In order to shrink the text down to 3000 words, i had to cut examples and a list with the ritual phrases of the game. I will submit the cut version, but can i make the one with the examples available for my reviewers? I.e. i’d submit the short version with a note saying something like “i had to cut the examples from this text. If you want to see the complete version, i’ll send it to you”. Would that be fine or is it against the rules?
    If i make it into the finals, i would still participate with the cut version (or i could translate the examples).


  • friendofagnes

    So sad, I only just realized gamechef had started for the year. :( I had just assumed it wouldn’t be until summer, like last year. Oh well, I know my mistake now. I’ll just have to keep a close eye on it in the future.

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