Game Jam Winner Spotlight: To And Again

from the gaming-like-it's-1927 dept

So far in our series of posts on showcasing the winners in all six categories of the fifth annual public domain game jam, Gaming Like It’s 1927, we’ve featured Best Remix winner Lucia and Best Visuals winner Urbanity. Today, we’re taking a closer look at the winner of the Best Adaptation category: To And Again by Perrin Ellis.

Perrin is one of three returning winners in this year’s jam, having won the same category last year with The Wall Across The River. Much like that game, To And Again combines some basic board game and roleplaying game mechanics with a strong storytelling framework that empowers players to explore the themes of the work it’s based on while telling their own original tales. The two games share many of the same strengths, but To And Again feels notably more personal because of the designer’s relationship with the underlying work.

As you can see from the cover, that underlying work is a 1927 book of the same name by Walter R. Brooks. It’s a classic adventure tale for children in which a group of farm animals go on a journey, and would later expand into a series (and get new illustrations that are not yet in the public domain, as referenced in the clever cover design for the game). As Perrin explains in the game’s introduction, the series was a personal childhood favorite and one that, for most of their life, nobody else seemed to have heard of (it seems it was by no means the best of its genre, but perhaps deserves more attention than its ever gotten). So the game serves as a grand introduction of the story to a presumably new audience, and is clearly designed to do justice to both the book itself and the designer’s own memory of it.

As such, gameplay starts with some basic board game mechanics in which players traverse an overall “Journey Board” through a series of Episodes on their own smaller boards, immediately capturing that all-important structure of a simple and satisfying adventure story: a series of well-defined individual challenges that each represent a step towards the broader goal.

Next, the game layers on some basic RPG mechanics, giving each player a character with a strength, a weakness, a characteristic, and the ability to gain skills and improve stats as they progress. A game master guides players through the process of setting goals and generating episodes in which some or all of the characters take part. All of this is supported by rules and tools that are robust without ever becoming overly complicated, with dice tables that can generate goals, settings, obstacles, and other details coupled with concise examples of how every element of gameplay works. Everything is well-designed and well-explained, and all of it is fine-tuned to evoke the original book (there are also pre-made character sheets for all the animals in the original cast).

Put it all together and you’ve got a game that is obviously a labor of love, with design that is informed at every turn by the creator’s relationship with the original work. It’s made me curious about the books, while also making me feel like I have a strong sense of at least some aspects of what they’re like — just as any good adaptation should. For that, To And Again is a deserving winner of Best Adaptation.

Congratulations to Perrin Ellis for the win! You can get everything you need to play To And Again 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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