Game Jam Winner Spotlight: The Pigeon Wager

from the gaming-like-it’s-1927 dept

So far in our series of posts 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, Best Visuals winner Urbanity, and Best Adaptation winner To And Again. Today, we’re taking a closer look at the winner of the Best Deep Cut category: The Pigeon Wager by Jason Morningstar of Bully Pulpit Games.

Jason Morningstar seems to have a knack for Deep Cut games: last year he handily snagged the prize with The Obstruction Method, and this year’s entry has once again demonstrated why the category is one of our favorites. The Pigeon Wager takes its inspiration from “The Military Use Of The Homing Pigeon”, an article published in a 1927 issue of an ornithology quarterly. On this humble foundation, the game builds a live-action roleplaying exercise full of drama and creativity.

The setting is a pigeon club in Hoboken, where three players take on the roles of three characters awaiting the results of a big race. There’s Januszewski, the biologist and club Secretary whose only interest is the birds, especially since they help him manage his lasting trauma from World War 1. Then there’s Tully and Capotorti, the representatives of competing local gangs that have made high-stakes bets on the race about the future of the city’s criminal enterprise. The tension they create in the room has driven all the other enthusiasts away, and now all anyone can do is make small talk while they wait for reports of the pigeons’ progress.

Oh, and each of the three has a gun.

Seasoned roleplayers could already have a lot of free-form fun with just the introduction and character bios that lay all this out, but the game provides some extremely creative scaffolding to give things a bit of structure. Key to it all is a 90-minute audio file that plays in the background throughout a session. Most of it is period-appropriate music taken from an archive of cylinder recordings, but these are punctuated by pigeon noises that instruct Januszewski to draw a card from a small deck of events, and update the official log of the race’s progress. Eventually, this culminates in a random selection of the winning pigeon and (probably) guns being drawn.

The game also includes a couple of newspaper pages for players to print out, populated with real snippets from a 1927 archive. These serve as inspiration for the tense conversation that takes place while everyone waits for the race’s results. As for what else happens in the game, well, that’s up to the players! The game presents a situation that is at once wholly immersive and simple: players only have to read a fairly short bio, and each role is easily realized, even for an inexperienced roleplayer, by sticking to just a couple of key points. For once again spinning simple and easily-overlooked source material into a truly unique piece of game design, The Pigeon Wager couldn’t be more deserving of Best Deep Cut.

Congratulations to Jason Morningstar of Bully Pulpit Games for the win! You can get everything you need to play The Pigeon Wager 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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