Game Jam Winner Spotlight: Fish Magic

from the gaming like it's 1925 dept

Today, we finish our journey through the winners of the third annual public domain game jam, Gaming Like It’s 1925. We’ve covered ~THE GREAT GATSBY~, The Great Gatsby Tabletop Roleplaying Game, Art Apart and There Are No Eyes Here, Remembering Grußau, and Rhythm Action Gatsby, and now it’s time for the final winner: Best Analog Game recipient Fish Magic by David Harris.

David Harris is our one returning winner this year, having topped the same category in Gaming Like It’s 1924 with the game The 24th Kandinsky. This year’s entry is at once similar and very different: like that previous game, Fish Magic is about exploring the work of a famous painter, but it takes an entirely new approach to doing so. And that change of approach underlines what makes both games so compelling: their mechanics are carefully crafted to perfectly suit the artworks at their core. Where The 24th Kandinsky was about manipulating the shapes and colors of Kandinsky’s abstract art, Fish Magic is about letting the evocative surrealism of the titular painting by Paul Klee spark your imagination. To that end, the painting becomes the game board, and is populated by words randomly selected from a list, poetically divided into the “domains” of Celestial, Earthly, and Aquatic:

The players take turns moving between nodes on the board, taking a word from each one to build a collection, which they can then use to build phrases when they are ready. The goal is to convince the other players that your constructed phrase represents either a type of “magic fish”, or a type of “fish magic”. Points are gained by winning the support of other players for your fish magic or your magic fish, and reduced according to how many extra words you have sitting in your collection, thus encouraging players to be extra creative and find ways to make convincing phrases with the words they have, rather than just chasing the ones they want.

If you’re wondering what exactly makes for a good type of fish magic or magic fish, or what that even means — well, that’s kind of the point, and exactly why this approach to the game is so perfect for the source material! Paul Klee’s painting is appreciated for its magical depiction of a mysterious and intriguing underwater world, and the way its techniques — a layer of black paint scratched off to reveal vibrant colours underneath, and a square of muslin glued to the center of the canvas — suggest wondrous depths obscured by a hazy curtain. Fish Magic the painting provokes imagination and flights of fancy, and Fish Magic the game adds just enough mechanical scaffolding to make this process explicit and collaborative.

Anyone could slap a board layout on a famous painting, add some rules, and call it a game — but it takes a real appreciation for the painting, and a real intent to do something meaningful with it, to craft such a simple premise that so perfectly aligns with the source material. Like The 24th Kandinsky last year, just a quick read of the rules was enough to make our judges eager to play, and it was an easy choice for the Best Analog Game.

You can get all the materials for Fish Magic on Itch, and check out the other jam entries too. Congratulations to David Harris for the win!

And that’s a wrap on our series of winner spotlights for Gaming Like It’s 1925. Another congratulations to all the winners, and a big thanks to every designer who submitted an entry. Keep on mining that public domain, and start perusing lists of works that will be entering the public domain next year when we’ll be back with Gaming Like It’s 1926!

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