Game Jam Winner Spotlight: The Wall Across The River

from the gaming-like-it's-1926 dept

This week, we announced the winners in all six categories of the fourth annual public domain game jam, Gaming Like It’s 1926. For the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at each of the winning games (in no particular order). Today, the spotlight is on the winner of the Best Adaptation category: The Wall Across The River by Seth Ellis.

There are a lot of ways to make a “good adaptation”, and it doesn’t just mean telling the exact same story. When you’re making a game based on a novel — in this case, a game based on Hope Mirrlees’s 1926 fantasy novel Lud-in-the-Mist — the real accomplishment is to go beyond window-dressing and bring the spirit of the source material into the gameplay itself. That’s what The Wall Across The River accomplishes with its combination of competitive storytelling and a simple, attractive game board:

Lud-in-the-Mist is about the push-and-pull between the rational, down-to-earth inhabitants of the city of Lud and the fantastical land of Faerie that sits right next door. The game puts two main players at the heads of these two sides, with additional players taking on a judge/audience role. As play proceeds, the Mayor of Lud will try to build a wall between the city’s lands and the encroaching mist of unreason (by playing “bricks” onto the border between the two), while the Duke of Faerie tries to overwhelm the city and turn it into an extension of his kingdom (by expanding his fantastical influence over Lud, piece by piece).

But in order to do this, players will have to win a war of stories: in each round, they play cards against each other, representing the imaginative Fancies and intoxicating Fruits of Faerie, or the rational Rules and rock-solid Bricks of Lud. To use a card, a player must describe a scene; to use another card in response, the opposing player must offer a counter-scene that challenges the first. It’s then up to the remaining players, the “Citizens”, to judge the winner as they see fit. The game also supplies an excellent page of optional story prompts — not so long and dense as to be overwhelming, but robust enough to provide lots of inspiration.

The tension between the “normal world” and the fairy-folk is a rich old tradition in fantasy and folklore, and Lud-in-the-Mist is a seminal novel within it. At this tradition’s heart are powerful themes about the potency of storytelling, the conflict and balance between the rational and the fanciful, and the pervasive sense that only a thin and porous wall separates reality from a world of wonder that is both beautiful and terrifying. By immersing players in these themes, making them act out this contest and pursue the goals of both sides, The Wall Across The River shows how games can capture the essence of an existing story and explore it in new ways — and for that, it’s a well-deserving winner of Best Adaptation.

Congratulations to Seth Ellis for the win! You can get everything you need to play The Wall Across The River from its page on Itch, plus don’t forget to check out the other winners as well as the many great entries that didn’t quite make the cut! We’ll be back next week with another winner spotlight.

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