Help Kickstart JammerUp, the Roller Derby Board Game

Reading Time: 6 minutes

JammerUp game in progressJammerUp game in progress

JammerUp prototype (not final art). Photo: Jonathan Liu

Overview: JammerUp puts you in the shoes — er, skates — of a roller derby team, setting up blocks and getting your jammer ahead of the pack to score. The game, designed by a mom who’s also a roller derby ref, is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with just over a week left to go. Check out my interview with Niki and Robin Hammond, designers of the game, and then read ahead for more on how the game works.

JammerUpJammerUpPlayers: 2

Ages: 8 and up

Playing Time: 40-60 minutes

Retail: $25 on Kickstarter for the basic game, plus higher levels for bonus rewards

Rating: Whip-tastic. While the game is still undergoing playtesting and tweaking, the rules so far allow for both deep strategic play and an element of chance.

Who Will Like It? At its heart, JammerUp is an abstract strategy game with moving and blocking, so fans of that genre will appreciate the pure strategy aspect. But it may also appeal to fans of roller derby, plus the “take your chances” version of the game adds some die-rolling and cards to mix things up.

Theme:

Roller derby! Teams on roller skates, whizzing around an oval track (and occasionally being shoved out of it). The pure strategy version seems a little more calculated — perhaps a little less excitement there but definitely some depth of planning. The introduction of chance also allows for some fancier moves by the skaters but they might end in a trip to the penalty box.

The rules of JammerUp aren’t exactly the same as roller derby, because (as the designers discovered) you have to make some adjustments for what works as a sport and what works as a board game. However, the game is very much inspired by the sport and they tried to capture the feel of roller derby as best they could.

JammerUp miniaturesJammerUp miniatures

Back the project at the $80 level and you get some skater miniatures.

Components:

Since the components are still subject to change, I won’t say too much about them. What you get is the game board, 10 skater pawns (in two colors), 14 cards, and a standard D6 die.

The board shows an oval track made up of hexes, with various hexes colored blue to represent sections and also to mark the “diamond” which is the shortest path for your jammer to take around the track. The board also has spaces for the cards and a discard pile, the penalty box, and (I’ve been told) will have a scoring track which will replace the scoring sheets that were used in the prototype.

If you back at higher levels, you’ll also get additional colors for skater pawns, plus you can get pewter miniatures (shown above). You’ll have to paint those yourself, though, because the two sets will come unpainted. Having the miniatures is unnecessary but would certainly make the game look really awesome.

Gameplay:

Note: the rules are still being fine-tuned, but here’s how they stand for now.

Each player has four blockers and one jammer. The blockers have to stay in the pack as much as possible, and the jammer scores by going through the pack and getting at least one full section ahead of the pack. Each time your jammer gets past the pack and far enough ahead, you score. The game ends when the pack makes one full circuit of the track. Players set up their pieces on the designated spots.

On each turn, you move all four of your blockers first, and then your jammer. Every piece has to move — there’s no standing still in roller derby! All of your own pieces can move through each other, but cannot move through the opposite team’s pieces. Blockers move in a straight line any number of spaces, but not clockwise around the track. Jammers can “juke,” or change direction, one time during their move and they can move clockwise if desired. At the end of a move if you’ve moved up to an opposing piece, you can “block” to shove the piece one space further, taking its place. This can even be used to shove a piece off the track entirely and out of bounds, in which case they have to re-enter the track behind the blocking piece.

Blockers have to stay in a pack — that is, they have to be within three hexes of the next closest blocker, and there has to be at least one piece of the opposing color in the pack as well. This makes for some interesting maneuvering, because you can force your opponent to slow down if you don’t move your blockers very far, or you can leave some of their blockers behind during your move, forcing them to catch up.

The sections are marked by the lines of light blue hexes that cut across the track. If you get your jammer at least one full section ahead of the pack, then you score.

That’s the “pure strategy” version of the game.

The “take your chances” version adds a couple more things. First, each player gets two “Official Review” cards at the start. The cards are shuffled and put in the draw pile, and at the beginning of each turn you draw one card, which can be used during that turn. (The card is discarded at the end of the turn whether it was used or not.) The cards allow moves like jumping over an opponent’s piece, allowing a blocker to juke, or a “super block” which shoves an opponent three spaces instead of one.

Each of these moves (as well as the regular blocking out of bounds) also carries a penalty risk of 2 or 3. After making the move, you roll the die. If the result is less than or equal to the penalty risk, then the skater is sent to the penalty box. Any skater that was shoved out of bounds is replaced in their original position if a penalty is assessed. Players may also choose to use their Official Review cards to re-roll the die, but the second roll stands and only one card may be used per play. The penalty box is a three-stage spot, with the skater moving one space up in the penalty box after each turn, until it re-enters the track.

Conclusion:

Like I’ve said already, the rules are still undergoing some tweaking and updating — in fact, Niki Hammond sent me some updates after I’d gotten the prototype — so there are still little changes being made. However, I do think JammerUp is a game that shows some really great potential. I don’t know what I was expecting from a roller derby game — maybe something more loud and over-the-top — but it turned out to be a pretty intense strategy game, not as complex as chess but with a lot of depth to it. I also really like the ability to choose between a game with pure strategy and a bit of luck.

I don’t know if there’s a huge overlap between board game players and roller derby fans, but I don’t know that it really matters — I play tons of board games about occupations or worlds that have nothing to do with my real life. As long as it’s an engaging and well-designed game, I’ll take just about any theme. The fact that JammerUp was designed by somebody who has actual ties to the sport just adds to the fidelity.

Personally, I’d love to see the Hammonds exceed their goal, because then they could also work on developing an iPhone/Android app version of the game. Plus, it would pay for some awesome artwork to go along with this excellent game. If your interest is piqued, head over to the Kickstarter page and chip in a few bucks. For lots more info, including gameplay videos, head to JammerUp.com.

Wired: Surprisingly deep strategy, choice between pure strategy and a game of chance.

Tired: Game is still undergoing some tweaking, so final version is yet to be seen.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game to try out.

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