September 27, 2020

Game Jam Winner Spotlight: The 24th Kandinsky

This is it: the last in our series of posts focusing on each winner from our public domain game jam, Gaming Like It’s 1924! So far, we’ve featured Hot Water, Legends of Charlemagne, 192X, The Hounds Follow All Things Down, and You Are The Rats In The Walls, and now it’s time to wrap things up with the winner of Best Analog Game and a game that, perhaps most out of all the entries, is completely suffused with a spirit of remixing and mining the public domain: The 24th Kandinsky by David Harris.

This game was one of the first to draw our attention as the entries were coming in, just based on its premise: players are tasked with using visual elements from the 23 paintings that famed Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky created in 1924 to create a brand new work — a “24th Kandinsky”. This is a game about not just admiring art but digging into it and picking apart its components, and all that’s required to play is a blank canvas, some paper and drawing implements, a pair of scissors, and some sticky tack or tape. On each of their turns, a player selects an element from one of Kandinsky’s newly-public-domain works — choosing from all the geometric shapes, swooping curves, checkered grids, intersecting lines and other abstract forms that are the hallmark of his work — and draws a replica of it, which they then cut out and affix to the canvas wherever they choose. They can overlap and underlap other elements as the new work grows, and at the end of each round all players vote to determine who made the best contribution, leaving their element in place while the others from the round are removed. Turn by turn the work grows more elaborate, until time runs out or players agree to stop, at which point the player who won the most voting rounds gets to keep the completed work.

There is just so much to love about this idea and its execution. It manages to celebrate just about everything that we hope to highlight with these game jams: the value of new works entering the public domain, the incredible creative power of remixing and appropriation, the joy of artistic collaboration and spontaneous creativity, and the way games can be an ideal medium for all these things — for both game designers and players. Mechanically speaking, it does this with elegance: the rules are loose and simple, but carefully combine cooperative and competitive gameplay to achieve a balance of incentives that produces just the right mood for a game like this. It also serves as a foundation for people to create their own variants of the game: one can easily envision it being adapted to use different source material, more elaborate art supplies, and even modified rules to create different overall rhythms of play. And with every play session, a new piece of art is created, and that’s a special thing for a game to achieve.

You can download the rules and materials for The 24th Kandinsky on Itch, or check out the other submissions in our public domain game jam.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of our game jam winner spotlight series! One more time, thanks to everyone who submitted a game or played the entries, and to our amazing panel of judges. We’ll be back next year with a game jam for works from 1925, but until then, keep on mining that public domain!

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