A Glimpse Into PAX East: Newfoundland Jam

Sometimes you just want a tasty treat, and you’ve got to make it yourself. You’re going to need ingredients, some sort of container, and maybe some utensils to get the job done, though. That might sound simple enough, and even on Newfoundland it should be that simple on paper . . . except the pages of your Recipe Book keep getting torn out by storms, and just when you’ve got the right amount of blueberries one of those goddamn mainlander raccoons shows up and eats some of them. Ah well, you’ll just have to unpack some more groceries. Let’s make some friggin’ jam with Newfoundland Jam, the ‘colourful jam making game with flavourful cuss words’ from Jason Anarchy Games!

If you like to have a delightful adult beverage while you game, or if you’ve been following me since the Mad Adventurers Society days, Jason Anarchy Games might already ring a bell: Jason is the creator of the popular Drinking Quest series of drinking/roleplaying games. JA Games has branched out from its boozy roots, however, with games like Haiku Warrior, Le Neckbeard, and now Newfoundland Jam. Before we got down to questions about Jam, I asked Jason to write a bit about breaking out of a successful niche.

“Basically I try to make games that exist for specific sets of people… I don’t try to make games that please everyone. So Drinking Quest is for people who play Dungeons and Dragons but also drink while they do it. Haiku Warrior is for people who like RPGs and wordplay. Newfoundland Jam is for players who want a quick and colourful game with some interesting Newfoundland flavour. The possible range for any of these is to get to the top of the underground basically. These are not mainstream games. I always draw the comparison with music, all my favourite bands are at the top of their niche but wouldn’t make sense to become popular beyond that.”

Alright, so what does Newfoundland Jam involve? The goal of the game is to be the first one to get 11 or more points. You get points by making Jam (or, notably, the odd portion of Canned Moose Meat). When you begin play every player (the game supports 2-4) gets five Ingredient Cards to form their hand, kept secret from the rest of the players. Then four Ingredient Cards are placed on the table in a row (the Pantry), while four Recipes get the same treatment (the Recipe Book). The rest of the Ingredient and Recipe Cards are placed face down in their respective decks.

The last person who called someone else a Juice Arse gets to go first. If nobody has used such colorful language recently, then the instructions suppose the last person to have eaten some jam does. Either way they get the wooden jar token.

Turns go as follows. First, you Restock the Pantry by taking one Ingredient Card from the Pantry, discarding it into the Garbage Bin, and replacing it with a card from the Ingredient Deck. As a result the available Ingredients are always changing turn to turn. Second, you can get some Ingredients in one of two ways: either you grab an Ingredient from the Pantry and replace it with one from your hand, or you blind draw two Ingredients from the Ingredient deck. Third, you can claim Recipes from the Recipe Book, as many as you have the Ingredients for. You get points for every claimed Recipe, and the used Ingredients wind up in the Garbage Bin. Fourthly, you pass the token to the next player. Proceed until someone gets 11 or more points and is declared the GRAND JAM CHAMPION OF NEWFOUNDLAND (and definitely not a juice arse).

Every type of Recipe has three ‘tiers’: Generic, Big Jub, and Best Kind. The different tiers are worth increasingly more points, but also require more (and more complicated) Ingredients.You’re almost always going to need an Empty Jar (or a Can, again with the Moose Meat), but the number and variety of other Ingredients will go up. For example, Generic Peach Jam needs two Peaches and an Empty Jar, and is worth 3 points. Big Jub Peach Jam also needs some Sugar, and is worth 4. Best Kind Peach Jam also requires the use of some utensils referred to as Biffer Boffers, and is worth 6. There are some Jam Store Coupons that will count as any kind of fruit, but notably they can’t replace any of the additional Ingredients like Sugar, Empty Jars, or Globber Bobbers, so the road to Best Kind will always be a little more arduous.

There are three ways that things can get a little more complicated: getting Jammed Up, Storm Cards, and Jam Burglars.

There’s no hard lower or upper limit on how many ingredients you can have in your hand, but if you ever wind up with 10 or more you become Jammed Up, and you have a choice to make. Either you engage in a little Spring Cleaning and dump your entire hand into the Garbage Bin before drawing a fresh 5 card hand, or you begin a Kitchen Party. If you declare a Kitchen Party your entire hand is placed on the table face up, and players may now take and replace Ingredients from it as if it were the Pantry. You might want to begin a Kitchen Party because you’re close to claiming a Recipe and don’t want to lose your Ingredients, but you’re taking a gamble that the other players won’t be real juice arses and just snatch up what you need and already had. Soon as your hand drops below 10 cards, you can pick it up again and play as normal.

Storm Cards, identified by the words ‘Blowin’ A Gale’, hide among the Ingredients Deck, and the second they’re drawn the player in question has a choice to make of their own: either the Pantry or the Recipe Book gets completely discarded and replaced. This could seriously dash someone’s plans, but it might also kick play out of a stalemate if nobody’s been going for what’s on the table already. This is why the player who drew the Storm Card gets to draw again, so they might have a chance to take advantage of their choice.

Finally, the Jam Burglar is one of those goddamn mainland raccoons out to steal your jam! From the description on the box I almost expected some kind of neutral mechanic that just messes with people, but in reality this is another card from the Ingredient Deck, that a player can play as an extra action. The base game has two versions: either the Jam Burglar will let you root through the Garbage Bin like a proper trash panda to get what you want or it’ll let you look at another player’s hand and steal from it.

Okay, so that’s how the game is played, but I know you’re wondering (because I was), why Jam? Why Newfoundland? What was the game’s development process like?

“This one came together pretty quickly and had a lot of unrelated factors. I wanted to work with Kelly Bastow who did great art… I wanted to make a colourful game…and then everything clicked when I thought to base this on a story I heard when I was a kid about family members making jam “back home” in Newfoundland. Also there are a lot of location based games and I thought Newfoundland was a good choice because it has a lot of personally and a really unique sense of humour.”

For a game that sells itself as a ‘colourful jam making game with flavourful cuss words’ on the back cover, I was surprised at how little cussing I found – friggin’ on the front cover, juice arse seems pretty obvious, but that’s it … which gave me the thought that it’s a regional thing. I asked Jason if I had gotten that right, and if the game would scandalize polite society in Newfoundland.

“Haha, that probably raised the game rating a bit but I thought it was hilarious to keep in there. So far the reaction from Newfoundlanders has been great. I really wanted to show an interesting take on Newfoundland that hadn’t really been done. A lot of this is based off of back and forth interactions I had with my college roommate Lonny who is from Newfoundland one of the funniest people I know.”

I ended up playing a few rounds of the game for this review in a cabin in the middle of nowhere (thanks to James and Bruce for playing and Evan for having a delightfully laid back bachelor party), which I felt matched the aesthetic pretty well. It was closer to next morning than that night, and there’d been . . . a fair amount of drinking going on (ironically no Drinking Quest), but the ‘how the heck do we play this’ stage still vanished in something like five minutes, and I think that says a lot about how easy the game is to pick up.

While playing I noticed a quirk in the strategy: going for Best Kind right away sort of inclined players to then hunt for another Best Kind to seal the deal, while if you went for a Generic you tended to try and snap up more of them. I prompted Jason to write about strategy for a bit.

“Sure, it’s definitely riskier to go after the Best Kind card because of the “Blowin’ a Gale” cards. They are a ticking time bomb and if you’re saving up for something that could be whisked away in a second. It’s also risky to try and save too many cards at once because if you get too many ingredient cards then it’s a Kitchen Party and players can take from your hand.”

Now, the review copy I got at PAX East ‘19 included the “Lard Tunderin’ Jesus” Expansion in the box (a trend across the games I got to review at the con, really), which adds 35 cards to the game. By and large this expansion adds more fruit, such as Partridge Berries, and their respective Recipes to the lineup, although there’s also a Rainbow Jam that can be made using any five fruits. The biggest mechanical shakeup is a new kind of Jam Burglar that lets you draw a recipe from the deck and put it face down in your play area, and only you may view or claim that particular recipe. The game recommends you don’t start off with the Lard Tunderin’ Jesus Expansion added in, although personally I think you could get away with it just fine. It doesn’t make the game more complex, really, just adds more variety to what’s going on. We put it in for our second game, and the ‘how the heck do we play this’ stage did not make a reappearance.

I asked Jason about the LTJ pack being in the box and got my answer, along with some talk about the mechanics that meshed pretty well with my impression of what it did for the game.

“There were originally meant to be two editions at first but then the Kickstarter heavily favored the version with the expansion so the first print run basically turned into the “Kickstarter” edition. Yeah I do have other plans for this, nothing I can say publicly at the moment. Mechanically this is my favourite game I’ve designed in the sense that is has a great balance of “Easy to Learn / Hard to Master”. Since I make casual games, I really want to make sure that they are quick to learn and lead to people actually playing the games. With any given tabletop game, there is inherent work in terms of learning it so I don’t want my games to be sitting on a shelf because they seem too intimidating.”

So, now that the jam is made, what’s next for Jason Anarchy Games?

“I just came out with a 7″ rap record with MC LARS, FabvL and Wordburglar. I want comedy to be the common denominator in anything I work on and there’s some funny stuff on “The Middle Class of Middle Earth”. It’s definitely nerd rap. We make an alternate ending for the Lord of the Rings on one side and there’s a song about starting a game night but not actually finishing any games on the other side.

I’m also working on more funny games… I think 6 at the moment with different collaborators? I do like being a ridiculous auteur with certain games but it’s also really fun to switch modes and see what other people can bring to the table. When you’re working with talented people it’s very motivating and great to have someone to work off of.

Not listing any new games publicly just yet but if you see a new title announced, I’d be happy to get into more detail then!”

Final words for our readers?

“I work a lot of comic cons, feel free to find me at my booth and talk industry stuff or buy some silly games. I usually sign them with crappy philosophy or terrible jokes.

You can also see my stuff here: www.JasonAnarchyGames.com

And then also just a quick thank-you to anyone who’s ever played one of my games and had a fun night! Thanks for sharing my sense of humour. 🙂 “

Jason wrote above that he wanted this to be a quick and colourful game, something that was easy to pick up that still provided some challenge to mastery, and he wanted it to have a unique flavour. My verdict: accomplished on all fronts. Newfoundland Jam is a fun, distinctive game that’s learned quick, plays quick, and still offers enough strategy to keep players interested for repeated play. Not to be overlooked are the high production values of the game. The cards and the handy little box are of sturdy make, and Kelly Bastow’s art is delightfully colorful and just downright charming. Newfoundland Jam definitely earns a spot on the gaming shelf, and more importantly earns being taken off the shelf to enjoy.

Thanks to Jason Anarchy Games’s PAX East crew for giving us a review copy, and to Jason himself for taking the time to answer questions about the game! Now go get yourself a copy and make some friggin’ jam, ya juice arse!

Well that just about wraps up our PAX East ‘19 coverage . . . aside from a few leads that will take long enough to follow that it doesn’t feel right putting the tag on. Thanks to PAX East for having us on in a Media capacity, and thanks to all the creators that reached out to us! This was a lot of fun, and you’ll no doubt be seeing one Cannibal Halfling or another at more cons in the future . . .

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