“Dinosaurs are like lame dragons.”
“That’s why they died! They didn’t have magic!”
“I don’t think that’s right. That doesn’t sound like real science.”
“We don’t want people reading science. Studies show: the more people read about science, the less they read about fantasy!”
-exchange between a fantasy-obsessed customer service rep and a mildly confused bookseller in a game of No Boundaries
Back in July, I decided to take part in an annual event called Game Chef. This is a game design competition where participants are given a theme and four elements and must create an entirely new game based on those items—in just 9 days. I decided I had to give it a shot because… well, it started with a walk. Caroline and I were out strolling through our neighborhood and she mentioned that Game Chef was about to begin. I’d never tried it before, but had always been curious.
“What are the elements?” I asked.
“Yarn, smoke, cut, echo,” she said.
“And what’s the theme?” I continued.
“Borders,” she replied.
Yarn… smoke… cut… echo… borders… the words swirled in my mind, turning over and over, each one drifting into and out of focus as I pondered how I could weave them together into a cohesive whole… and suddenly, I knew what to do. How to make it all fit. How to push the theme to its limit and right over the edge.
So I made a game about a failing bookstore chain.
No Boundaries is a GMless story game for 3-5 players about dysfunctional relationships at work. You play as low-level employees of a bookstore called Boundaries Books & Cafe, and have “crossed the line” with the characters to your left and right in some way. The story takes place over a year as the suits at corporate try (and inevitably fail) to stave off bankruptcy; every three months, management implements a stupid new plan to “save” the company, which always goes awry. It’s a game about generally unstable people dealing with the slog of a low-paying retail or food service job, where every worker is little more than a replaceable cog in a slowly-rusting machine—funny, yet poignant.
As I said, I wrote this for Game Chef. I managed to play it twice within the nine-day design window, but when the day came to submit it… I forgot. Straight up forgot. Quite embarrassing! And perhaps fitting since it’s a game about incompetence…
Anyway, the game is available to download for free; give a try and let me know what you think!
Posted by Marc, who looked like this in 2008: