Another Indiecade has passed, and another of what is always one of the best game events each year. The magic of Indiecade is that it is actually manages to live up to its name as a *festival*. Not just a conference or an exhibition, attending Indiecade feels like a great weekend with friends, strolling to and from sessions, playing games, and getting a taste of what’s new in independent and experimental games.

I had a busy weekend. Gamestar Mechanic, the game I conceived with Jim Gee and developed with my company Gamelab, was a finalist in the festival. Scott Price, the project lead at E-Line Media, the company that runs Gamestar along with the Institute of Play, presented the game in one of the exhibition galleries and he was happy with the response from the crowd.

I spoke at a couple of the sessions. Nathalie Pozzi and I spoke about our work together on a panel about collaboration, where we premiered a video about our recent project for MoMA, Starry Heavens. Since – compared to a digital game – not many people get to play my gallery work, I’m always happy to share. Perhaps we’ll enter Starry Heavens into Indiecade next year, if we can find the funding to put it on.

I also led Iron Game Designer, a session in which teams of designers compete to create a game in real-time in front of an audience, using a mystery ingredient and a theme that the audience chooses. (The session is inspired by a similar event created by game designer Marc LeBlanc.) I co-hosted the event with Colleen Macklin, and we made a number of innovations this year to the design of the session that helped to kick things up a notch.

For example, instead of pre-defining teams, we only determined team captains. Each captain could pick a co-captain from the audience, and each team also got two random team members from the audience (we drew their names from a hat). That kept the event feeling more inclusive and unpredictable. We also got rid of our “panel of judges,” who never felt essential to the session. The biggest change to Iron Game Designer is that instead of a table full of office supplies – cards, dice, paper, etc – for making game props, we only gave the groups the mystery ingredient – nothing more! We made this decision only a few minutes before the session was about to start, but I am glad we did. The table of supplies always made the session feel too much like an arts & crafts class, and the games that resulted were more elegant as a result. The ingredient, by the way, was bananas, and the theme that the audience picked was The Amish. All of the games were hilarious. In the winning game by Catherine Herdlick’s team, young Amish struggles to emerge from their community of locked arms to reach the forbidden fruit of tasty bananas. For me the biggest thrill was not the (impressive) games that the teams made, the rolling-in-the-aisles laughter of the audience, or the challenge of the game show-style hosting with Colleen, but just that I was able to continue to iterate on the design of the session. I guess that’s why I am a game designer.

One of the final events at Indiecade this year was a Metagame tournament. At the closing party, we gave out starter decks of the game to anyone who wanted to play, and the four who had collected the most cards battled in front of the audience for the championship. Congrats to Miles Nye, who among other techniques drew his cards randomly for the tournament and actually rapped his argument for Parappa the Rapper against his opponent.

See you next year, Indiecade!