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Published on February 22nd, 2012 | by DerbyLife

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JammerUp: The Story Behind the Game

by Devilina Detail, creator of JammerUp

I love hearing the stories of how people got into roller derby, especially those who had zero interest in sports before finding their lives consumed by it.

In my case, I had just moved to the suburbs from Brooklyn and the only people I knew in the area were the parents of toddlers in my 2-year-old’s play group. They were nice enough, but I kind of needed to hang out with some people I could curse like a sailor in front of. I also had a new baby and a full time job, and was looking for an excuse to get out of the house and blow off some steam once in a while.

So I tried out for Suburbia Roller Derby and holy shit, I got in, ultimately finding my place in the league as a ref. Internalizing the rules became my mission in life, so I read them back-to-back, and watched as much bout footage as I could to understand how to put them into practice. Like many skaters, officials, and fans of derby, I’m not terribly interested in other sports, but there was something about this one that just sucked me in.

At first it was hard to put my finger on. There’s the fact that it’s a primarily women’s sport, and that it’s a grass-roots movement, and the whole punk-rock-DIY ethic. But those are all reasons why derby *culture* is awesome. It didn’t explain why it appealed to me so much as a sport.

So then there’s the speed, the action, and the athleticism displayed by the skaters. All very impressive, for sure, but those physical aspects are also present in football or any number of other sports. No, there was something about derby that made the game itself fundamentally more appealing than any other sport I’d known.

Strip out the culture, the athletics, and the social aspects of roller derby, and what’s left?

I should pause here and mention that I’m kind of a geek. And if you’re reading Derbylife, there’s a decent chance that you are, too. I’m a technophile. I love science fiction. I’ve played Chess as a drinking game. I squealed with delight when DNN made those “Can’t Stop The Signal” t-shirts. At Easterns in 2010, I saw a car in the parking lot with a license plate of “ENTIL ZHA” and nearly shat myself. (Where are my Babylon 5 peeps at?)

There are a lot of geeks in derby, and I believe the reason is that it’s *hard*. And not just “hard” in that you have to have the grace of a swan and the strength of an ox to play it well, but that it’s as much of an intellectual challenge as a physical one. The people who play this game, especially at the top levels, aren’t only athletic, they’re fucking smart.

A few months ago I had to take a leave of absence from my league. During that time, I needed some way to fill the derby-shaped hole in my life, so my husband and I worked on an idea I had for a board game based on the rules and strategies of roller derby. We called it JammerUp, and tested it with both derby people (skaters, fans, etc.) and gamers who’ve had no real exposure to the sport.

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Here’s a conversation I’ve had multiple times while teaching non-derby board gamers how to play JammerUp:

Gamer: “This is really interesting, because it’s like I have to think in two different modes all the time. I’m trying to position my blockers to not let your jammer through, but I also need to use them to push your blockers out of the way so I can get mine through.”

Me: “That’s exactly right. Derby requires you to play offense and defense at the same time.”

Gamer: “And real roller derby is like that, too?”

Me: “Yup.”

Gamer: “…Wow.”

JammerUp started out as an experiment to see if it was possible to express roller derby as a turn-based board game. When the Facebook page attracted a couple thousand fans within weeks, I became determined to produce it for them and set up a Kickstarter to fund manufacturing.

And now, after putting it in front of people who know nothing about roller derby, I can also see the potential for it to bring some new fans to the sport by introducing them to it in a way that cuts right to one of its best and most under-recognized attributes–the strategy.

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To learn more about JammerUp: The Roller Derby Board Game, visit http://www.jammerup.com. Funds for manufacturing must be raised by February 26th. You can contribute by pre-ordering the game at http://kck.st/x4A7T4.

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