Jam Game: The Lost Voyage!

I jammed in the Kenney Jam 2023! Do you know Kenney? Kenney make some of the best creative commons games assets in the world, assets you can put all over the place and use in your game designs. The point of the Kenney Jam was to get people to engage with these assets and make a game quickly. It was fun!

At the moment, I think I’m the only participant in the jam who made a physical game, and if you just want to skip to check it out, the game I made is called The Lost Voyage and it’s over on itch! The game is a push-your-luck yahtzee style dice roller, and I was only able to do a small amount of playtesting, which was more ‘does this engine work’ and not ‘is this the most engaging version of this game.’ It’s free, it’s a print and play game, you’re going to have to put some work into it to play it. But I also want to talk about the process of making it, and, importantly, what I want to do next.

Essentially, The Lost Voyage is a Star Trek Voyager fanfiction idea. If you don’t know Star Trek Voyager, it’s a Star Trek series which starts off with this new ship, the Voyager, gets immediately flung to the ass end of the universe, out into unexplored space, and have to make a long, arduous journey back. And you might think that’s a cool concept with a lot of potential but sadly, the show you get out of it is a bit more episodic and a little less … enjoyable.

Anyway, in this game, you have the same instigation event – but here, the ship gets wrecked on the arrival. Instead of a gentle ambling trip home, an endurance effort where the crew of the ship try to make relationships work during this difficult time, the vibe is much more there’s a present threat and we need to rush home to prepare for it.

The game as presented works out just fine. I like it a lot, but I am also enjoying a feeling I have not had for a long time, which is the excitement of seeing ways that this game as I’ve devised it can be changed. I’m looking at this as a alpha version of this game and now I am excited to see what I can do in the next iteration of the system, and what I can do with more tools.

First up: the lore! This game was made in two days. I don’t name any space ships and the names of the planets you visit are largely random words chosen from a wikipedia page about stars. Planets don’t have problems that are meaningfully expressed, players don’t have unique powers, there’s a lot of empty space that I could afford to fill in later.

What’s more, I made the game entirely with Kenney assets and didn’t even make my own assets to go with it. Kenney’s assets are great, I recommend you use them, but I also find them lacking in terms of characterisation or menace. Lots of great components for, for lack of a better term, Video Game Aesthetics, lots of good resources for buildings and the building of buildings, but not nearly as good at driving engagement with a personality or making people feel threatened.

In Lost Voyage the villain was a card representing a rip in space time, an anomaly, which I referred to as the ‘Space Wedgie’ because I couldn’t think of anything better to do. But honestly, I’d rather take on a more bleak angle, I’d rather make that faction an enemy that you’re running away from.

In the original conception, it was, essentially, as in Star Trek Voyager, showing up and seeing a Borg Cube that’s heading towards ‘home’ and you gotta race ahead of it, somehow. Every turn, you get to spend some time in a sector deciding if you can help the people there with their problems, or rush on ahead to get home.

Now, here’s where a sliding cynical scale of these things. ‘Cos my first idea was the notion that you weren’t just trying to deal with the threat, but you were also trying to make sure when you got back home, you were the one who looked the best doing it. That seemed a bit knobbish for a Star Trek inspired game, and the current version is a little bit knobbish just because you can win the game by having more points.

Still, it is a push-your-luck style game, and I like the idea that push-your-luck mechanics punish players who are too greedy but reward those who are exactly the right amount of greedy. This tends to be great for themes where characters are kinda knobs!

But what if this time, there’s a goal for the villain; you want to retrieve a certain amount of multiple types of resources; Research points, Fortification points, Evacuation points, and the idea is that you’re actually on a mission through this sector as you flee the villain. That you’re not just abandoning planets, but that you have to make a decision about when to push and when to cut and run. In this case, the Hazard needs a net total

There’s other spaces of negative space in Lost Voyage. For example, the current way of tracking sectors is a lineup of identical cards. Immediately, I can see a way to use that space more efficiently, more effectively. Instead of turning those cards over to show that the Space Wedgie has advanced, I could instead have it so those sectors fall off, and are given to players based on rules – either if they’re in last place for points, or whatever, as a catch-up mechanism? – and then the track shrinks as the hazard continues.

The back sides of cards could have a lot more to them too – there’s space for flavour text on each planet to describe a reference to the episode that that planet was meant to be. The dice rolls necessary for each planet are simplified set rules – but what if I decide to make the dice rolls have iconography? What does a 2 symbolise? What about a 3? Imagine if dice rolls highlight say, the normal face of a 3, but because those 3 pips are present on a 3 and a 5, you could use one or the other to nail that. A 4 is hiding on the 6 and the 6 is also hiding a 2. But crucially, a 6 can’t be a 5 or a 3 or a 1. Just like that, these seven points on the dice intrigue me. Or what if the dice are custom printed, and some planets need a lot of emotional support problems and some need a lot of science problems and some just need someone who kicks ass? What dice do they represent? What if a planet holds onto a dice until you leave the sector?

Finally, there just could be more cards – I don’t want print-and-play cards to be too numerous, because I know that the more cards you ask a player to make, the more work it is to start to play the game. But in terms of a game being made and put in a deck box and sold to a person at a convention? More cards gives the game more room for variety, it means that the play experience can shift around. Lost Voyage, a game I like, is very simple, and it’s okay for a game to be simple. I may try some of these ideas, these expansions and decide that no, I need to do something else.

Or maybe I’ll decide that it needs to stay simple, and just be more polished, a better villain, more flavour text, more effort in the simple pieces that are already here, with more time.

Who knows?

I’m excited to try it out.