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Brenda Brathwaite ponders boats and choo-choos.

Jim McGinley, Blogger

December 4, 2009

6 Min Read

MIGS took place Nov. 16 - 17, 2009.
Jim McGinley dabbles in scribbling.
Previous Entries - 7:40am , 8:30am , 10:15am

Day 1 - 11:30am
How I Dumped Electricity and Learned to Love Design
Brenda Brathwaite

Brenda has the attitude, style and swagger of a rock star.
She's an irreverent, funny, rapid-fire presenter.
Unleashed more ammo than Predator.
Hands Sirlin offers exhaustive detail and opinion here.
Matthew Kumar summarizes and merges here.

Making games since she was 15.
Game design's a whole world - a magic place. "Design = Play."
Game designers "have an innate desire to create things with our hands."

"Whose first game design was in lego?"
Most of the audience raised their hands.

As I raised my hand, I wondered who would do all the accounting.

Leggo her Legos. SCAD position allowed her flexibility.
"Board games, dude - think about it."


What'd you learn in school today?

7-Year Old Daughter:

We learned about the Middle Passage.
Africans were taken to America, then Abraham Lincoln freed them all.

Brenda's Head


And thus, a very serious board game was born.

Middle Passage: The Game
   People - 16 pieces (4 red, 4 blue, 4 yellow, 4 green)
   Ship - 3 x 5 piece of paper
   6 sided die

   Grab random number of pieces, fit on paper.
   "but mom, we've got to keep the families together"

   10 turns. 30 pieces of food.
   Each turn, roll 6 sided die - subtract from food.
   "mom, we aren't going to make it"
   Pieces can be removed from boat (subtracts less food).

   Ensure ship survives.
   "mom, this isn't a good game."

They didn't play for long.
Afterward, her daughter truly understood the Middle Passage wasn't about a cruise ship.
A game succeeded where a month of black history failed.

good lord, Bing may have been right

All human-on-human tragedy has a system...
figure out how to put the player in that system...
so they're involved and have agency in it...
so they're complicit in it...
"If I make you complicit in the actions of the system... I've succeeded."

The only way to be true to herself, and fully realize this newfound game power,
was to tackle the hardest topic imaginable: The Holocaust.
And thus, rabbi approved Train was born.
Read all about it here, here and here.

Gist: Pack as many yellow pieces into a box as possible.
Spoiler: Box is destined for Auschwitz!

Thoughts on a Train (game wasn't demoed, nor were rules explained)

  • Only 1 copy of the game exists. There will only ever be 1 copy.

  • Visually, the game looks gorgeous... horribly horribly gorgeous.

  • Everything was designed with intent.
    i.e. colour of the pieces, the broken glass, physically hard to fit pieces into train
    Lucky thing due to aforementioned rabbi scrutiny

  • Brenda's met everyone who's ever played the game.
    She's physically carried the game to 50+ sessions

  • Rules were typed using a Natzi typewriter.
    Natzis built the rules, so it makes sense Natzis wrote them.

  • Rules are purposefully vague - there are many procedural gaps.
    Turns the table on "rule mongers".
    Do you just blindly follow the rules?

  • You can save everybody, but it's very hard to do.

  • During one session, Brenda overheard "It's just like Halo"

  • Derailing the train can lead to anything...
    "These people are going to Denmark... DENMARK!!!"

  • When players figure out what the game is about,
    they don't tell other players... telling.

The Unstoppable BB-Gun
If Reiner Knizia can build 500 published board games, Brenda can build six.
She showed snippets of "Síochán leat" and "The New World".
Both looked gorgeous... and deeply troubling.

"Board games taught me a lot of our problems have solutions,
 and that games are a lot more diverse than we give them credit for."

"Non-digital design made me give long thought to the tactile."

"Game mechanics are more powerful than paint."

I learned it was all right to take a chance...
that game designers are the most supportive group you could ever have...
... and I fell in love with design again.

By contrast, I just finished a game about a green guy chasing a lady

Q & A
Did you use the Holocaust to evoke emotion?
Not about raising awareness or putitng people in a difficult situation.
To make a serious game and avoid the Holocaust is a cop-out.

In Pikimin, players don't realize they're exploiting workers...
How do you ensure people get the message?
Hand too far behind to record interesting response.

How do you know when you've done enough research?
6 months for Train. As a game designer, you'll know when you've researched enough.

Can a game not based in history get the same response?

Can a game get the same emotional impact with positive stuff?

More people should have the opportunity to play this.
If there's more than one, it loses something.

Modern Warfare 2's "No Russian" Level - what do you think?
I love MW2. I'll tell you about my thoughts later, I want people to experience it.

Are some systems more powerful?
Simple systems are the most powerful.
More Rules = Less Player Can Do = Less Emergent Gameplay
The procedural gaps are what makes Train interesting.
In the real world, we don't know all the rules.

I'll never look at PitchCar the same way again.

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