I found out recently about JammerUp, a roller derby board game designed by a husband-and-wife team. Niki Gallo Hammond, aka Devilina Detail, is a referee for Suburbia Roller Derby in New York. She had the idea about making a game based on the sport at one point while on a leave of absence and wanting to “fill the derby shaped hole” in her life. After a lot of playtesting and revisions with the help of Niki’s husband Robin Hammond, they’re now ready to release JammerUp to the world.
I’ll be getting a prototype copy to try out, but to whet your appetite here’s a short Q&A with Niki and Robin about roller derby, board gaming, and their daughters’ roller derby nicknames. Head to Kickstarter to back the project, or to the Jammer Up website for more info (including very helpful how-to-play videos).
Liu: How did you get into roller derby? What’s your involvement in the sport?
Niki: A good friend of mine saw a flyer for a local derby league suggested we try out. At the time I was still on maternity leave from work, and we’d just moved from Brooklyn to the ‘burbs that year. The idea of getting out of the house for a few hours a week to do something completely unrelated to work, motherhood, or home improvement was enough to send me digging through the attic looking for skates I hadn’t worn in a decade. Today I’m an official. During a bout, I’m either on skates calling penalties, or running around performing any number of stats and tracking jobs.
Robin: Mostly I watch the kids so Niki can do her thing. Sometimes we get a sitter and I’ll work security at a bout, which involves keeping people safe by shepherding crowds away from doorways and children away from the “crash zone” (what we call the front row seats).
Liu: What was the inspiration for making roller derby into a board game?
Niki: As popular as roller derby has become in recent years, there are still a ton of people who either don’t know anything about it or have misconceptions. I spend a surprising amount of time explaining that derby is a sport, and that there are points and rules and strategies, just like hockey or football. The board game started out as a kind of experiment. Does roller derby have enough substance and structure to be expressed as an abstract strategy game? Indeed it does!
Robin: The first time you see roller derby it looks like complete and utter chaos. After working on this game, I have an entirely new perspective on the sport. I still enjoy and appreciate the strength and athleticism displayed by the skaters, but now I can also pick out formations and tactics that I didn’t pay mind to before. But to answer what inspired me to work on the game: it was fun!
Liu: How long did it take to go from “Hey, I have an idea for a game” to the actual game board and rules?
Niki: The idea had been floating around in my head for a while before I drafted a board. Once I actually put it down on paper, Robin and I worked on it for about 6 months before we had something that felt like a finished game. Robin’s been voiding warranties since age 3, so his job was to push the boundaries of the rules and see if he could break the game.
Robin: Every time we closed one loophole, the next one was harder to find. We’d play, and Niki would struggle to be patient while I was contemplating my next move. And then I would do something completely unexpected and she’d say, “Ah, so that’s what you were doing. We have to fix that” and we’d tighten up the rules. Once we got past that point, the games started to just flow, and we knew we really had something.
Liu: What sorts of board games do you guys like to play usually? Are you both avid board gamers?
Niki: My favorite games are ones that require you to solve a puzzle at each turn, like Othello, Pente, and Chess. I’m also a big Scrabble player. Basically, I love games that are simple enough to pick up but take some time to master.
Robin: We used to play a lot of chess, but we haven’t had much time for that lately. My favorites are Chess, Risk, and Chinese Checkers. Though these days I play a bit more Candyland than I’d prefer…
Liu: How old are your kids, and do they watch roller derby themselves?
Niki: Kayla is 3 and Zoe is almost 2. Robin takes them to the bouts. I’m usually focused on my job but when I do catch them in the crowd, they’re always watching and smiling. Kayla got skates, pads, and a helmet for her birthday and already knows how to put on all of her own gear. They both have derby names: Kayla is “Code Blueberry,” and Zoe is “Baby Ba-ruiser.”
Robin: Oh, they love it. Zoe has been transfixed by bouts from day one. Even at one year old she would barely take her eyes off the action. Kayla seems just as happy to see “Mummy’s roller skates friends” off the track as on. She generally follows such encounters with a renewed interest in her own roller skates: skating around the living room holding a hand or two. Come spring Niki has promised to teach us both together.
Liu: How did you decide on Kickstarter to finance your game? Have you used Kickstarter much in the past as a backer?
Robin: Once we felt the game was stable, Niki created a Facebook page to gauge interest, and the response was much much greater than we’d anticipated. People asked how and where to buy JammerUp, so we felt some pressure to get it going. It, however, is one thing to Like a page on Facebook, and quite another to actually make a purchase. By using Kickstarter to take pre-orders, we’re not only financing production, but also confirming that there is indeed a market for a roller derby board game.
Niki: I was aware of Kickstarter in the past and liked the concept, but did”t really get into it until we set up the account for JammerUp. It’s addicting! There’s such a wide variety of creative, innovative projects out there. As a backer, I love that I can contribute small amounts to projects I find interesting and help bring them to life. As a creator, the implicit message of “I like your idea” is just as rewarding as the money being pledged.
Liu: Who’s the target audience for JammerUp?
Niki: We have two target audiences. First, there are roller derby fans and their families. Derby folks “get” JammerUp when they see it, and start playing at a very thoughtful, strategic level right away. A lot of skaters have told me that they’re looking forward to playing it with their kids. (We’re recommending it for ages 8+, though our 3-year-old already knows some basic moves.)
Second, there are the board game enthusiasts. If you’re not familiar with roller derby it may take a little longer to pick up, but anyone who likes abstract games will probably get sucked into JammerUp. And who knows, maybe they’ll decide to check out a local derby bout as a result!
Check out the JammerUp Kickstarter page for more info. Funding deadline is February 26, and the base game reward level is just $25.