Thousand Year Game Design Challenge - January Update

The Thousand Year Game Design Challenge
The first month of the challenge went even better than hoped. We had plenty of media coverage on Purple Pawn, Wired/GeekDad, Tor, Lautapeliopas (Finnish), Abre o Jogo (Portuguese), Discovery: Treehugger, The Star, and UnBeige. There are a handful of discussions on BoardGameGeek, Reddit, Inventori di Giochi (Italian), and Gameful. But most importantly, we got some very interesting game entries you ought to check out.

PortalPortal by Kenny VenOsdel
A hex-based abstract capturing game where the board position decides which pieces are allowed to capture, which pieces can be captured, and what spaces they can move to. Also, players alternate the ability to move once or twice.

NumeriaNumeria by Lloyd Krassner aka Warp Spawn Games
This game is played on a chessboard with thirty-six tiles numbered 1-36. Win by forming rows and columns sharing mathematical relationships. These can be as simple as a consecutive series of numbers or advanced as a Fibonacci sequence.

Public SecretsPublic Secrets by Joshua Curtis Kidd
How do you tell a friend your secret password when in a public conversation? You can’t whisper in their ear. You can’t write something down, unless you also show everyone. In interesting experiment and so far the only entry not played on a board.

A great lineup so far. I love seeing two-player abstracts get some attention, of course, but I'm eager to see games stretch boundaries like Public Secrets. Here's some food for thought if you're still thinking about your entry. A few little challenges that might get your brain-juice flowing.

A game played with just hands.
A game played with facial expressions.
A game that teaches morals and ethics.
A game played with your eyes closed.
A game to be played as loudly as possible.
A game made with recycled materials about recycling materials.

Hope any of those inspires you to make your own game to last a dozen lifetimes. Go to to find out how you can to join the challenge!


Procession by Daniel Solis. A casual strategy game for couples.
Each player has a bridal party trying to get their bride to the chapel. The bridal party clears a safe path for the bride to travel. The first bride to make it to her chapel wins! This is a casual strategy game for couples. It's inspired by flower girls spreading petals for a bride to walk on as she approaches the altar. I hope you enjoy it with your special someone.

Stuff You need
• 2 or 4 players.
• A chess board.
• Each player needs five pawns. These are called Maids.
• Each player needs a queen. This is called the Bride.

For a two-player game, arrange the pieces as shown above. In a four-player game, place the extra couple's pieces in the remaining corners.

How to Play
Each player takes turns moving one of their pieces. Each piece has special types of movement, but there are some common restrictions. A piece may not pass through any other pieces or land on an occupied space. There are no "captures."

Maids move like chess rooks. That is, horizontally or vertically any distance.

In the example above, you see White moving one of his Maids (left), Black then moving one of his Maids (center), and White moving another of his Maids (right). When you move a Maid her first time, she must leave the boundaries of the starting corner. Once leaving the starting corner, you may not move that Maid back into your starting corner.

Brides also move like chess rooks, horizontally or vertically in any direction. However, they may only move towards or away from one of their own Maids.

In the example (top left), neither Bride can move. White's Bride is blocked in by her own Maids. Black's Bride has a clear opening, but cannot move because she doesn't have a Maid to move towards. In the example (top center), Black moves a Maid down one square, creating a path for the bride to travel on (noted with a magenta line). In a later turn (top right), Black's bride takes that opportunity to move. Still later (bottom left), the White player moves a Maid to make a path for the Bride. In a later turn (bottom right), the Bride moves down that path.

The first player to move a Bride to the opposite corner wins.

In the example above, White moves his queen to the opposite corner, so he wins. Black was very close, but couldn't move to the left because there wasn't a Maid to open a path in that direction.

This is an update of an old game from the Luchacabra project. I post it here now because a team of programmers in Poland is presently creating a playable AI opponent for the game.

With Valentine's Day approaching, it also seemed a reasonable time to re-visit this old chestnut. Hope you enjoy the game with someone you love!

[In the Lab] Rulers - Notes on Ruling

So let's talk about the heart of the matter. Let's talk about rules. I don't mean the mechanics of the game, I mean the edicts that the characters can impose on each other. This is where I do a little bit of world-building to explain how to rule. First, here are the different types of rules, in order of greatest authority.

A fundamental principle of the universe, like the Law of Gravity. No one can create a law. Given standard conditions, a law applies equally to everything in the universe. That doesn't stop monarchs from trying to break them.

Alas, the universe doesn't bend to the will of even the most obstinate dictator. While laws can be merciless, they are fair and predictable. So, smart monarchs and wealthy sponsors fund scientific institutes to discover the laws. If no one can create a Law, then the strongest competitor is the one who knows the most about them.

Plus, on occasion, scientists discover clever loopholes around Laws, like airplanes, helicopters and rockets. This is how the world has still come to have many of the modern trappings we recognize. This world has limosines, the internet, menacing mega-cities and under-served rural areas.

For example, the city-state of Sun was founded on gunpowder. The explosive substance was developed in secret by an underground network of scientists. Cooperating with rural peasant castes and non-ruling Monarchs within the Imperial caste, they led a revolution against all rulers. To this day, the nation is controlled by a technocratic parliament unified by their xenophobic fear of rulers. They freely offer technology to any would-be rebels hoping to start a revolution in their own nation.

A statement expressing control over people's behavior. Unlike laws, rules are constraints specifically for people, made by people. Rulers are not uncommon, but great skill is rare and takes years to develop. Any child can say, "Don't come in my room!" but that has little sway over a determined parent. With education and training, that child may very well be able to hold a seemingly supernatural grip on her family, her neighbors and, some day, her very own kingdom.

When the skill to rule is in full bloom, a ruler commands the obedience of a person or persons who hear and comprehend their rule. It takes a great amount of mental energy to impose a rule, meaning most rules only apply to small areas, specific people, and short time-spans. Anyone who falls under a rules description will feel great compulsion to obey that rule.

For example, historical records describe Queen Alis creating a rule as a birthday gift for her cruel son Prince Trent. The rule states: "All men in my kingdom must wear red scarves on Prince Trent's birthday." The rule was printed on banners and pasted all over the kingdom. Loudspeakers were positioned at major thoroughfares, programmed to repeat the rule in five languages at sunrise. Each man woke with the desperate urge to find a red scarf, only none could be found. Royal servants offered baskets of white scarves to the public. Soon, the men turned on each other or themselves, turning their white scarves red. That night, fathers wept. Brothers hung their heads low. Prince Trent clapped with glee, watching CCTV feeds of the carnage.

That is an extreme example. Rules that impose an action on a large group of people are very difficult to maintain and require the complicity of many loyalists. Most rules actually impose inaction, since it is easier to command a person to do nothing. Doing nothing comes naturally.

Disobedience can have a wide variety of penalties. By default, the rebel will feel as if their bodies are under someone else's control. He can't pull the trigger. He can't step out of the way of the moving train. If the rule includes the clause "under penalty of ____," then further disobedience will result in pain, hallucinations, and other tortures. With enough stamina and training, disobedience is possible, though rarely without some cost.

Lastly, a rule or its penalties cannot break laws. So, a rule stating: "Children must fly," wouldn't give children that ability. It would compel children to try, much to their parents' dismay. There are other laws concerning ruling, described below.

A statement expressing control of one's own behavior. Think of these like self-imposed rules. These are easy to impose, because they only apply to one's self. Vows of silence are extreme, but common codes. More often, codes impose dietary restrictions, dogmatic rituals or onerous philosophical stances.

Codes offer a way to build discipline in the art of ruling. The more draconian and inconvenient the code, the more willpower it takes to obey it. Indeed, some rulers specifically choose codes knowing that they will contradict a kingdom's rules, just to put their wills against their opponent.

Laws of Ruling
Over time, royal clerics discovered several laws that govern the behavior and scope of rules. The order in which they're described varies by nation, but this is generally how they're recognized.

1. Laws are laws. As yet, no rule is written that successfully breaks any laws.

2. A rule is obeyed by its subjects, to the best of their abilities. Even if a rule contradicts a law, the subject will be compelled to obey that rule as best they can.

3. A spoken rule requires constant mental concentration. Therefore, the rule is no longer in effect if the ruler is in deep sleep, unconscious, or under severe stress. Indeed, few rulers can enforce more than one rule at a time. Fortunately, there is a way around this law.

4. A rule lives on in writing. As long as the rule is written down, its effect is maintained without the ruler's concentration. If the material the rule is written on is destroyed, then the ruler must again keep concentrating to keep its effect. Many rulers have their rules literally written in stone. (Or metal, or etched in diamond, etc.)

5. A subject must be able to understand the rule. Nations have been toppled by deaf or blind assassins, who were immune to a ruler's edicts. Illiterate barbarian hordes have ignored rules posted at a kingdom's gates. This is why most kingdoms have a single national language and compulsory elementary education.

6. Rules die with their ruler. Regardless, the death of a ruler ends any rules they have in place. Other rulers can keep those rules alive, if they choose to do so, but history shows that this is rarely the case.

7. Rules have limited dimension. Depending on the strength of a ruler, their rules can only extend a certain radius, apply to a certain number of people, be in effect for a certain amount of time, and contain a certain amount of complexity. Those are the four dimensions of ruling: Space, People, Time, Complexity.

8. Rules must be elegant. Some words are more powerful than others. All. None. No. Must. These are broad words and difficult to enforce in a rule. To compensate, a ruler may try to write a longer, more specific rule. The more ideas a rule encompasses, the harder it will be to maintain. An elegant rule rests balanced between specificity and complexity, imposing constraints in as simple a wording as possible.

9. Rules are stronger with allegiance. If a group of rulers agree to a set of rules and join their efforts together, that greatly increases their mutual strength. This creates a feedback loop, where ruled classes comply with the rules against their will, further cementing the rulers in their positions of power.

10. Rules can be broken. A foolish monarch trusts only in the power of his rules to control his kingdom. A wise monarch uses all tools at his disposal – including more mundane tactics like marketing, persuasion, intimidation – to keep power.

Phew! That's a lot of content in one post. I'll let it rest there for now.

EDIT: And watching Cairo riots on the live feeds from Al Jazeera right now, I wonder if this game should have more mechanical modeling for protests, riots and unrest in general. Hm.

Hand-Made Books from RePaper

I recently ordered some small hand-made books from Sara Hindmarch, otherwise known as Re:Paper. She describes her work as "Hackbooking," bookbinding using found objects and fine papers. My books came in these cute ribboned parcels.

I got this handy little hardcover to keep post-it notes nice and organized. I won't have to go rummaging around for a tiny pad any more.

And I couldn't resist one of her beer box books. These are hand-bound books with covers made from upcycled beer boxes. I love a clever, aesthetically pleasing re-use of materials.

» Sara's Etsy Shop: Re:Paper

SageFight T-Shirts

Martial arts teach dignity and discipline. Thankfully, SageFight is not a martial art. Show your love for the game with a t-shirt! I'll be wearing one at the SageFight event at Dreamation 2011.

» SageFight T-Shirts

Megan and Daniel play Pandemic

Pandemic by Matt Leacock
Megan and Daniel play Pandemic
A married couple talks about the games they play and enjoy. Find more posts like this here.

The rules for basic play in Pandemic took about 20 minutes for me to learn, but comprehension of the goal and how to start and end were pretty easy to see. I've only ever played with just the two of us, and during the first two games we forgot a key rule (reminded ourselves of the rule we forgot after the first time, but neglected a different rule the second time around...oops).

I think we'll need to keep the rule booklet on the table for a while yet. While I'd say there are several steps-per-turn in Pandemic, the constant collaboration amongst players keeps it interesting through the whole game. And with two players, it's fun to try and determine the two best roles to play to make it through the game.

Playing Pandemic is sort of like getting a group together to defeat a game of Risk already in play (but instead of armies and cannons, you have to worry about disease cubes, eew!).

Oh, Pandemic. It needs no introduction. Hard to believe it's taken this long for us to added it to our game shelf, but hey. Life is busy. Plus, we sometimes avoid games that have a lot of components because they typically take longer to set up, play, and break down than we have available.

I'm pleased to say that it's not the case at all. Sure, the first play through will have a few mistakes, but the game is robust enough to survive that first session. You see enough of the potential to want to play again, and again. I wasn't surprised to learn later that Matt Leacock designed this game for himself and his wife. It's a great game for couples (and couple-friends) with a mix of gaming experience.

[In the Lab] Rulers - Mechanics

Because I'm not entirely settled on one situation just yet, I haven't given much serious thought to mechanics or systems. I don't like designing a system without first knowing what mechaphor that system is supposed to emulate or evoke.

First, there are some loose things to consider, like what characters will do in an average session. In this early step of the design process, I look at these as simple verbs like Explore, Acquire, or Fight. I can refine those verbs and create specialized roles by adding adverbs like Quietly, Strongly, or Quickly. I can also do this by adding nouns like Monarchs, Armies, or Rulers. So here was some initial brainstorming from people on story-games.

» "A stat for Rule-making, a stat for Rule-breaking, and a stat for avoiding Rules."

» "What about something vaguely Polaris-esque, where there's regular narration and then Special narration?
Maybe key phrases that only Rulers can use?
Maybe more powerful Rulers (if there are such a thing) can use more of these key phrases?
If certain people, using certain words, are able to tap into truly epic powers, it seems fitting to have a somewhat solemn "ritual phrasing" mechanic going on."

A Polaris discussion tree would probably be interesting as a sub-system for some kind of negotiation duel, though. I was also thinking about how specificity makes it easier to predict and control the effects of rules, but that usually requires lots of words. So perhaps the length of a rule might also be a measure of its power, within a certain structure, but also leaves open plenty of loopholes.

Obedience, Success, and Failure
Gregor Vuga had a whole lot of ideas from working on a game of his own. Mostly these involved interactions between different levels of Authority. Higher Authority meant it was easier to win conflicts when someone tries to disobey your rule (or when you try to disobey someone else's rule).

However, obeying rules is the far more beneficial route to take, since it wins favor with whoever imposed that rule. It's partly just being polite, partly a ploy for power, partly a system to create good citizens. That allows you still more opportunities to climb the ladder and increase your authority.

At first, I was thinking that task resolution would be a generic system and there would be a mini-game for ruling. However, ruling is too big an elephant to relegate to the sidelines like that. So, there is not task resolution per se. Instead of a spectrum of success or failure, there is a spectrum of obedience.

If you "fail" at a task, it's only because you stumbled into a rule that forbids you from doing that thing. Now you know a little bit about that rule. As a player, you can then start exploring the boundaries of that rule until it is completely known.

» Rulers - Introduction and Situations

Dung & Dragons Concept Art: From Sketch to Color

This is my process for putting together some concept art for a game. Concept art is not intended to be final. I'd give this to a proper artist to produce something more professionally polished or include it in a pitch document to a game company.

I began with a loose sketch in red pencil, traced over that with a normal pencil and traced again with a sharpie. Then I scanned that and desaturated all the red out. Then I increased the contrast so only the sharpie would be visible. With that image, I can begin the vectoring process.

I use Freehand MX for my vectors. It's a defunct program no longer supported by Adobe, but it's what I learned back in college. I could never figure out Illustrator's idiosyncrasies. :P

For the background, I cobbled together some stock vector elements from Shutterstock: A farm illustration and a dragon silhouette. I took that into photoshop to do the same dissolve brush coloring.

These vectors make it easier to fill in colors and gradients in photoshop. I like coloring at 600 dpi using a dissolve brush. When I reduce it back down to 300dpi, those harsh pixels become softened, creating a pleasant airbrush-like texture.

And that's how I work, usually. Sometimes I'll use more stock vectors, but I couldn't find just the right cast of characters for this piece. I never sell myself on my illustration skills, but I can do enough to show an artist what I'm trying to achieve. With that direction, she can actually take this concept art and push it to something suitable for publication.

» Stock Vectors: 21935506 37346008
» Music: Aló Django - Troublant Bolero - CC BY NC SA

Knights of the Dinner Table reviews Happy Birthday, Robot!

Knights of the Dinner Table #168 has a very warm write-up for Happy Birthday, Robot! and small story games in general. Many thanks to contributor and fan Ashok Desai for the kind words. Here are some of them!

"Now this game is just charming. It was floated as a concept on the Internet and financed through fundraising site Kickstarter, but flew to such astounding success and gained so much support that it's now available in many places in a startlingly attractive hardback.[...]

"There's no character ownership at all, any player can write sentences about anyone in the story solong as it makes sense. The resulting tales tend to come out rather like those cheerful, thick-paged children's books found in all good nurseries, not least because you're operating under an often draconically strict word limit. That's not a criticism though. The limit is good. It makes you try harder.[...]

"All in all it makes a pretty good manual on how to introduce the very young to the wonderful world of role-playing, without any of the confusing trappings that have grown up around the hobby. Furthermore, the illustrations are cute, friendly, colourful and numerous, and the rules are easily simple enough for ten-year-olds and even younger kids[...]

"Besides, you can always subvert it to other causes if you feel the need. One enterprising Internet pundit even ran a game in the Batman universe, titled 'Happy Parole, Joker!' Funny how sinister the childlike effect of the prose can be when placed in a contrastingly adult context."

Thanks again, Ash!

Here's a fun fact: My first published game material was in another Kenzer & Company publication: Hackjournal, the official magazine of their AD&D homage Hackmaster. Small world, no?

» Knights of the Dinner Table
» Hackjournal
» Andrew Smith's Happy Parole, Joker!

[Do] Saturday Night Group - Episode 3

Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
This is a story created by playing Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.

» Previously: Episode 1, Episode 2

The Pilgrims

Pilgrim Reckless Syllogism gets into trouble because he can't control where he's going and helps people by pointing out logical flaws. (Matt)
World Destiny: 4
Temple Destiny: 8

Pilgrim Marvelous Cat gets into trouble by overdoing things and helps people by sneaking around. (Raven)
World Destiny: 2
Temple Destiny: 6

Pilgrim Favorite Shirt gets in trouble by being soooo familiar and helps people by drawing away danger. (Daniel)
World Destiny: 6
Temple Destiny: 5

The Letter

"Spun of Crystal and Gold" by Sophie Lagacé

The Story

Pilgrim Reckless Syllogism gives new meaning to "first contact" when he misses his landing on Amber Carnelian's balcony, colliding into her and sending them both tumbling through the air.

Pilgrim Reckless Syllogism picks himself and Amber off the ground, dusts them both off, and apologizes profusely for his clumsy navigation.

With everyone distracted by Pilgrim Reckless Syllogism, Pilgrim Marvelous Cat sneaks into Grandfather Graymist's bedroom and gives him a bit of the Temple's finest medicines (and they really are fine, the best, because Marvelous Cat would settle for nothing less)!

Suddenly, the DOCTORS burst in on Pilgrim Marvelous Cat and Lord Graymist, exclaiming loudly about the pilgrim practicing medicine without a license.

Pilgrim Favorite Shirt bears a striking resemblance to the chief of medicine and confidently grants pilgrim Marvelous Cat a license to practice, convincing the doctors that he is fully competent.

On the heels of the licensure grant, Uncle Victor bursts into the room behind the doctors, dragging with him the REAL chief of medicine, shouting, "That man is an impostor! Arrest Him!"

Meanwhile, Pilgrim Reckless Syllogism tells Amber he has arrived as part of the temple delegation, and asks to see some of these fantastic AUTOMATONS at the heart of this crisis.

Amber begins to say, "Oh, just around the corner –" and Pilgrim Reckless Syllogism barges towards the estate, triggering the secret weapons in the security system before Amber has a chance to tell him how to deactivate them.

During the ruckus, Pilgrim Marvelous Cat slips away and finds a large, interesting row of buttons and switches, which he proceeds to push and throw until the "Secret Weapon Armed" light flips off.

However, in shutting down the security system, Pilgrim Marvelous Cat inadvertently shuts *everything* down on GRAYMIST ESTATE, including the generators powering the nearby town.

Pilgrim Favorite Shirt accuses the Chief of Medicine of being the fake while slipping him a few gold coins as a bribe to go along with the ruse.

While journeying through the now darkened corridors of the Graymist Estate, Pilgrim Reckless Syllogism points out to AMBER that Uncle Victor would have no claim to the "dangerous" automatons if they weren't owned by her grandfather - such as if they owned by the military or the kingdom as a whole.

Pilgrim Reckless Syllogism trips in the darkened corridor, stumbles down the stairs and knocks down Uncle Victor, who defends himself with a clockwork electro-gun.

Pilgrim Marvelous Cat uselessly toggles some switches and pushes some buttons in the dark, then stumbles over a generator which kicks on, restoring power to everything...including the automatons, which activate and begin to move.[1]

Upon hearing Pilgrim Favorite Shirt's voice, the recently drugged Grandfather Graymist suddenly sits up in bed, to the consternation of the doctors, and calls out, "Son! Son? Is that you? Where have you been all these years?"

Pilgrim Favorite Shirt uses this mistaken identity as an opportunity, shouting "Yes, it's me, father! I've been away on whale-business selling cabbages. I must leave again soon, but before I go, I want you to sign over the automatons to Amber, she's ready for the responsibility."

With power restored, Uncle Victor's gunfire activates the defense automatons' lightning cannons, trapping Reckless Syllogism and Amber in the crossfire.

Unsatisfied with simply restoring power, Pilgrim Marvelous Cat puts the generator into overdrive, causing the massive CLOCKWORK assembly to shake violently and pieces to begin to rain down on the overzealous pilgrim.

Grandfather Graymist wonders if the the cabbages have driven his son mad, because Amber is still too young for such responsibilities, and demands the doctors give Pilgrim Favorite Shirt a complete physical to make sure he doesn't have any cabbage inside his head.

Pilgrim Reckless Syllogism points out that Uncle Victor might not want to shoot up the very automatons he wants so desperately to control.

Victor agrees, tossing Pilgrim Reckless Syllogism the gun, making it seem to the AUTOMATONS that he is the sole threat to security in the lab, so they concentrate fire on him.

Pilgrim Marvelous Cat realizes - too late! - that the secret control room isn't shaking because he's pushed the generator into overdrive, but because the secret control room is actually the head of the largest of all the automatons - and it's in the process of lifting off!

Pilgrim Favorite Shirt shouts to the doctors, "This whole estate is shaking apart and you're concerned about a physical? You're all disbarred! GOOD DAY!"

Epilogue: Pitchforks!

Pilgrim Reckless Syllogism tries to persuade the defense automatons chasing him that their pursuit is illogical - tries and fails, as they are masters of logic.

After all the automatons are finally shut down--at least they think--and much devastation and destruction, including the complete destruction of the Graymist estate, pilgrim Marvelous Cat's face is known everywhere and to everyone for the considerable bounty on the head of "The Master of Automatons" as the people call him.

The doctors chase away Pilgrim Favorite Shirt and place a quarantine on the whole planet to prevent any further temple meddling.

Destiny [2]

World Destiny: 6
Temple Destiny: 7
Temple Destiny Wins: Marvelous Cat returns to the temple and becomes a cook, avoiding clockwork and generators and using good, natural fire for cooking...BIG natural fires, but hey, they bake best...

World Destiny: 9
Temple Destiny: 10
Temple Destiny Wins: Pilgrim Reckless Syllogism, bitter at his failure to use logic to make the worlds better places, returns to the temple to teach new pilgrims a new discipline: illogic.

World Destiny: 9
Temple Destiny: 11
Temple Destiny Wins: After a brief brush with medicine and counterfeiting, Monk Favorite Shirt brands a new line of healing outerwear ("Favorite Shirt's Favorite Shirts") designed to protect the pilgrims from worldly dangers.


[1] At this point, Matt couldn't cross off a goal word because his pilgrim was in trouble Still, he used that goal word anyway so that it would be more natural to for another player to use it on their turn. This is now a strong bit of advice in the current full draft of the game.

[2] This was one of two games where all the players ended up with Temple destinies. As yet, there hasn't been a game where everyone got World destinies. Odd, eh?

Gentlemen, suspenders.

This is all I'm saying.

[Do] The Grid of Caring

Mark Sherry and I were talking about destiny in Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. In this conversation, he made some big observations, which I'll condense below. He begins...

"There are two ways to view the Destiny mechanic in Do. The first is the way that you seem to view it: you have a desired outcome for your character, and it might lead you to make suboptimal choices in choosing stones in order to obtain it. The way I viewed it was that your Destiny was an emergent detail, informing you of your character's ultimate fate as an outcome of the (sometimes hard) choices you made earlier."

To which I reply, "And you really can play it both ways. My preference is the former, but you can easily play in-the-moment and still get an interesting ending for your character."

Mark continues, "The latter is how I tended to play, and analyzed the game. I want to be surprised by the ending.

"Part of it is that that I didn't find that the things that Destiny modified really affected how I played. Having a different banner or avatar wouldn't have influenced which set of stones I chose, so having Destiny modify one of them at the end of the round was viewed as more of a flavour customization matter, making it easier for me to tell a story, but easier to get a happy ending, or a desired Final Destiny. Similarly, Final Destiny affects nothing, since it's explicitly the end of the game."

"Metaphor hit!" I interrupt. "The journey is more important than the destination."

Mark continues, unfazed. "There's a 2x2 grid of caring. Care or not care about destiny; and care or not care about parades/pitchforks.

"If you care only about destiny, or care about destiny more than parades/pitchforks, there's no more game. Just pick the appropriately coloured stones each time and you can't lose. The danger is that other people in your group care about parades/pitchfork since you're sabotaging the group's goal for your private goal.

"If you care only about parades/pitchfork, the game has challenge, and destiny outcomes are just interesting results/obstacles to make your game more interesting.

"If you don't care about either, why the hell are you playing?

"If you care about both, then the game is even more challenging. Your goal is probably to get as close to a parades ending as possible before focusing on destiny, hoping you can then get enough stones of the right types to satisfy both goals."

Yup, that's a very good summary of Do's gameplay. Beneath all the silly troublemaking and whatnot, there are some basic motive-engines that drive the game towards some kind of endpoint. The flavor of which depends on your whims and their interaction with the other players' whims.

[In the Lab] Rulers - Introduction and Situations

Last year, I'm kicking around a loose outline for a game setting, possibly something for an RPG. It's inspired by rules-oriented fantasy like Lost, Deathnote, Highlander, Fullmetal Alchemist and Inception. Stories that present a set of rules, then follows characters as they explore the boundaries of those rules. The setting closely resembles our modern world with some notable twists.

First, all nations are monarchies, with varying ranges of oppression. A handful really severe third-world dictatorships exist, but most nations are quite livable. All the trappings of first-world modern society exist, like suits and cars and jobs and the internet.

Second, some people have an ability to rule. That is, they can create a rule like "No one may enter this room without my permission." or "Men must bow in my presence." and the universe obeys, to an extent. It takes a significant amount of willpower to impose and maintain a rule, but it is easier when the rule is worded carefully and specifically.

Third, people who rule are, naturally, Rulers. They are members of a ruling elte. However, the ability to rule is not hereditary. Being in the monarchy does not necessarily mean you can rule, nor vice versa. That is potentially a source of tension. A rule does not need to be public for its effects to take place, which makes navigating the social dynamics of rulers precarious.

Fourth, there are Laws, which supercede most Rules. Laws of gravity, of thermodynamics, etc. You can try to break these laws with rules, but you can usually only do so on small scales. It is far easier to make Rules for human behavior than for physics, but it can be done.

The central "cool thing" of the setting is people finding loopholes or directly trying to break rules. However, that's not enough of a situation to get a story going. I need something compelling for players to do. I'm no good at making "sandbox" games, particularly role-playing games, in which there's a big open world that has a lot of potential situations.

Thankfully, my friends are all very smart, creative people. They had suggestions on Story-Games and on Twitter. Here are some highlights.

Explore the DMZ
» "The situation that comes to my mind is a country where the former monarchy has fallen for an unknown reason, leaving the land without a visible ruler and the people left in anarchy. Certain neighboring nations have taken the opportunity to snatch it up for what little mineral wealth and strategic advantages it offers, but none have been able to gain a foothold because of an intricate web of Rules that stymie their advances, leaving it an awkward demilitarized zone. The characters are agents of an interested, though not actively involved nation, that seeks to find out how to work around these shadow Rules, and who might be responsible for them."

Rulers vs. Monarchs
» "Many, maybe most, Monarchs are not themselves Rulers. They rely on Rulers to get stuff done. So why aren't Rulers the Monarchs? Maybe they're a hated caste. Or feared."

Climb the Social Ladder
» "It sounds to me like the situation is rising in this hierarchy. This is something that Vampire tried, but from a system perspective at least, failed in my opinion. It told you there was this cool political hierarchy with complicated rules but then didn't really let you rise, in my experience. This setting sounds like it can scratch that itch."

Power behind the Throne
» "I know it's not what you're thinking right now, but it might be curious to play the advisors to a Ruler... people who want to shape the world but have to convince their King or Queen to do what they want. This might work well with your failure mechanics, in which you discover not that you've failed but that someone has beaten you to a Ruling with an earlier Rule that goes against what you want now... and undoing a Rule is difficult or costly."

Rules Lawyers
» "I have been thinking about the role of lawyers in a setting like this. I think they woul be immensely valuable to rulers who would rely on them to keep track of all of the rules that they and those around them made. Knowledge of the Rules seems like a pretty important stat!"

Anyhoo, there is a lot to talk about when it comes to Rulers, so I'll split this up into a series of posts under the "rulers" tag. Look for more posts in coming weeks.

» Original Story-Games Thread
» Image from NBC's canceled series Kings

5 Tips for Playing Board Games in Public

Some rights reserved by Ladislav Beneš. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.
My wife Megan and I often play board games at cafés around town. Playing at home is a very different experience than playing in public. We've come across some particular points of etiquette that we sort of took for granted. A friend's recent Facebook update mentioned a couple of rude board gamers sitting next to her at a coffee shop, so I thought we could share some tips.

#1: Pick the right place.
Indoors: Look for an establishment that has comfy chairs, a welcoming atmosphere and lots of idle chatty patrons. Local cafés are our favorite spots, but a pub could work, too. Once you get there, choose a table that has enough room for your game and any food or drinks you have ordered. It's worth noting that public libraries frequently host game nights for local chess clubs. Ask your library if they'd host a general game event, too.

Outdoors: Public parks frequently have chess tables for your use. Be careful, though. Choose a safe place to gather where you won't get hassled by unfriendly guests. Also, make sure your game won't get strewn about by a strong gust of wind. Heavy chess, checkers and backgammon sets are great for this situation. Wooden versions of your favorite board game also work. Card games aren't as good, though.

#2: Pick the right game.
If you're playing in a quiet space, try not to play a game that requires a lot of loud, frequent dice rolling. If it does call for dice, roll them on a felted tray of some kind. But overall it's probably better to stick to a tile placement or card-drawing game. By contrast, if you're playing in a loud space, save your voice by choosing a game that doesn't require a lot of delicate conversation. Aside from noise concerns, you want to be careful not to bring a game that you're afraid of getting stained or spilled upon. It's hard to get coffee stains out of Marrakech rugs.

Some rights reserved by Melina Stathopoulos. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.
#3: Pick the right time.
It's no fun to play a game when you feel rushed to leave your table. A lot of restaurant workers depend on tips to make a living, so they'll want to get as many diners in as many tables in as little time as possible. Choose a time when the staff won't mind you sitting at a table for a while. We try not to stay longer than an hour. 90 minutes max. Also, keep an eye out for a posted schedule of events. You don't want to show up ready to play at a coffee shop only to realize they have a poetry-reading going on that night.

#4: Be good patrons.
If you're playing in a cafe, pub or restaurant, be sure to purchase food or drink and keep that purchase in front of you. As noted above, try not to overstay your welcome, but at least make a purchase every hour. Tip your server well and clean up after yourself. If you can’t afford that, see the above advice about public libraries and parks. In any place, you're probably competing with freelancers for long-term butt-space. The seats closest to an outlet are going to be prized real estate for them, so leave those available.

#5: Be representatives, not salespeople.
As you play, you'll get a few glances from fellow patrons. Some will be curious enough to ask what it is you're playing, but most will be too shy. Save them the trouble by positioning the game box so the game's name is clearly visible. Be approachable. Be willing to explain the game to random passersby. Don't let this explanation creep into a sales pitch. Most restaurants don't want solicitors using their establishment as a storefront, so if your guest is curious enough, direct them to a handy web address.

» Game-Friendly Cafés: Red Cup, Snakes and Lattes, Haunted Game, Norita
» Photos CC-Licensed by Melina Stathopoulos, Ladislav Beneš

Kari Fry added to Artist Directory

Kari Fry
Kari is a professional caricaturist and illustrator with years of experience in the field. She has a particular love for drawing cartoon animals, as you can tell from her portfolio.

» Artist Directory

[Do] Monday Night Group - Episode 3

Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple
This is a story created by playing Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.

» Previously:, Episode 1, Episode 2

The Pilgrims

Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror gets into trouble by falling down on things and helps people by creating an illusion. (Jenn)
World Destiny: 6
Temple Destiny: 6

Pilgrim Pugnacious Cookie gets into trouble by picking fights, and helps them with his selection of tasty baked goods. (Mark)
World Destiny: 5
Temple Destiny: 6

Pilgrim Revolting Boot gets in trouble by rousing rabble and helps people with his indestructible boots. (Daniel)
World Destiny: 7
Temple Destiny: 6

The Letter

"Once Upon a Time" by Peter Aronson

The Story

Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror lands in the royal throne room, squarely stepping on the cat king's tail.

Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror quickly jumped up and waved her hands shouting "We have arrived isn't this wonderful!"

Pilgrim Pugnacious Cookie picks a fight with nobles about the cleanliness of the kitchen

Pilgrim Revolting Boot distracts the offended nobles by complimenting their boots and comparing them to his own.

Unfortunately, one of the decorations on Pilgrim Revolting Boot's footware bore an uncanny resemblance to the silver rat, causing distress.

Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror spins around in a circle with the three ribbons declaring "Calico cat! do not worry about his boots for they mean we come in peace!"

Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror's ribbons get caught on the cat king's elaborately spindled crown, knocking it clear across the room into the paws of the stinky, half-dead silver rat.

Pilgrim Pugnacious Cookie tosses a pair of cheese buns in opposite directions, causing the bifurcated rat to head after both, leaving the crown behind in the middle.

The cat cries out at Pilgrim Pugnacious Cookie "Stop feeding the rat - it is a sin against the name of the childless old king"

Pilgrim Revolting Boot grabs the crown and runs about to the balcony with it raised over his head

Pilgrim Revolting Boot explains to the crowd that he is merely keeping the crown safe in his indestructible boot, while the zombie silver rat tries to usurp the throne – Nothing to worry about.

Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror fetches the cat king's Sword of Swiftness, but trips and drops it out the window, shattering it against the stones below.

Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror shouts "look I have broken the spell by breaking the sword!"

"Look I have broken the spell by breaking the sword" shouts Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror to the naive people below

Pilgrim Pugnacious Cookie, knowing the shortest way to a cat's heart, bribes it with fishy goldfish crackers.

Pilgrim Revolting Boot floats outside the balcony holding the king's crown, luring one half of the silver rat to its edge.

Pilgrim Revolting Boot drops the crown into the crowd of people from the kingdom causing a massive riot

Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror attempts to fool the other half of the silver rat into chasing her away by putting on the three-cornered hat of red leather, but she gets caught in a mouse trap in the castle corridors.

Pilgrim Pugnacious Cookie screams over to the silver rat on the balcony "Get over here rat so that we can duel!"

Pilgrim Revolting Boot swings one boot in a threatening manner, clearing away the crowd so he can gather up the crown and the sword's shards.

Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror takes a piece of glass out of her pocket and holds it up to see over the mouse trap and find the exit.

Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror tumbles down to the castle lobby where the Kingdom Guards see her, still caught in the mouse trap, and attack her because she is obviously the rat.

Pilgrim Pugnacious Cookie attacks the rat with a loaf of french bread and an edge of sharpest cheddar, swinging from chandeliers and swashing buckles.

The other half of the rat turns away from the corridor and rushes over to fight Pilgrim Pugnacious Cookie who has just landed in front of the Cat.

While fending off the crowd, somebody points out that Pilgrim Revolting Boot shares a birthmark with the old king, suggesting that he is the rightful son and heir.

Pilgrim Revolting Boot puts his shoe back on, covering the birthmark on his left heel and flies to the safety of the castle walls, now straining to hold the pounding crowds outside.

Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror is now in custody of the guards and says "look over there it is the real King!" causing the guards to turn and let her go.

Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror's escape leads her through the main castle gates, opening them to the torrent of kingdom folk.

The two halves of the rats come back together just as Pilgrim Pugnacious Coookie swings around the cat by it's tail, flinging it into the rat's mouth and down into the stomach.

Pilgrim Revolting Boot commands his new followers to calm the heck down, getting them to march into the throne room, with the guards, to help Pugnacious Cookie's battle with the calico cat's guards.

Pilgrim Revolting Boot, accidentally fulfilling prophecy by carrying the crown, wielding the Sword of Swiftness and saving the kingdom, is mobbed by those demanding that he take the crown.

Epilogue: Parades

Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror is set free after the three pilgrims pull out the cat (by it's tail) and she ties the three magical ribbons around the cat's neck (healing it of course from the yuck inside the rat)

Pilgrim Pugnacious Cookie hands out confections to celebrate the coronation of the new king, and stakes his place in the palace kitchen, as the new royal chef.

Pilgrim Revolting Boot reluctantly takes the throne, but demands that he not be called Pilgrim in Boots!


World Destiny: 8
Temple Destiny: 12
Temple Destiny Wins: Pilgrim Clumsy Mirror flies back to the temple with the cat and the two learn how to solve mirror mazes together

World Destiny: 10
Temple Destiny: 6
World Destiny Wins: (Former Pilgrim) Pugnacious Cookie, now Obesity-Pandemic Cookie, puts the kingdom on the map as royal chef, with his creative confections and bizarre baking.

World Destiny: 12
Temple Destiny: 9
World Destiny Wins: King Boot spends the rest of his days ruling this odd little world, but at least it beats schlepping across the universe running errands.


Phew! This was an episode where we all had to be on top of our game to get a Parades ending, but the draws weren't co-operating. We all started with destinies that were relatively even. In time, it was obvious that if we could choose our pilgrim's destiny or save the world, but not both.

The way we drew, Jenn had to tip her scales towards the temple while Mark and I stayed on-world. It was a great session and a good example of how I envisioned a full Pilgrimage.

Thanks very much to Jenn Wong and Mark Sherry for an excellent game.

Video: Deconstructing a Hardcover Book

Here's how I take apart a hardcover book for use in craft projects. Generally, a good hardcover is connected to the pages by its endpapers, so you want to cut those off first.

Be careful to leave the gauze underneath intact as much as possible. Then carefully rip off whatever endpapers you can so you'll be able to paste on your own later.

Take some time to take a look at how the pages were bound together for ideas on how you can bind your own book, too.

When it's all taken apart, you'll see that the hardcover is basically just three thick sheets of cardboard held together with a durable fabric glued to the outside. In a later video, I'll show how to add your own pages to a deconstructed hardcover book.

» Music: The Neverhood Soundtrack - Dum Da Dum Doi Doi

5 Tips for Elegant, Efficient Board Game Design

Go game at Hakone onsen
A while back, there was a thread titled "I want to learn from you," in which people stated the things they wanted to learn from each other. A couple people asked me about "elegant, efficient board game design." It was presumptuous of me to offer any kind of tips at the time, and still is, but here is what my tips were...

Be Cheap
Use the cheapest, most commonplace game props possible and use as few of them as possible. It's hard to make a baroque, overly complex game when you only have black and white beads on grid paper. Also, it makes distributing your game much easier when players already have the tools necessary. Look at the stuff around you right now. Examine how you can make a game out of those objects.

Forget Stuff Easily
I never mastered thAC0, I barely grasp probabilities, and I absolutely suck at advanced chess techniques. Consequently, I try to write my rules so that they would fit on a sheet of paper. Even better, on a business card. Or, still better, spoken aloud in easy conversation. By definition, a game of emergent complexity needs very few rules.

Explore the Physicality of Your Game Props
One way to be efficient and cheap is to examine your game props like Jackie Chan examines his stage props. Turn them upside down, examine how they rest in their natural state and how they group together. Can they stack? Do they make patterns? Don't forget to examine your boards too. If your board has a grid, do you play on the lines, the spaces or the vertices? Perhaps all three?

Bleed Your Props Dry
How much game-information can you draw from a single prop? Take a look at the standard deck of playing cards. 52 cards. 13 cards of a particular suit. 4 cards of each rank. 26 cards in each color. A card on its own has three levels of information: Suit, Rank, and Color. Here's where exploring the physicality of the prop comes in handy, because you can also turn a card upside down. You can line them up in rows and columns. Putting them in certain combinations at random have varying levels of probability. It's this wealth of information attained from the most compact of props that has given rise to a whole galaxy of possible card games.

Learn from the Ancients
In the past, no one had access to readymade miniatures, fancy boards or electronic components. They did have their household items and their imaginations, though. The game of mancala was originally played with seeds placed in little pits in the sand dug out with fingers. Go probably started when someone drew a grid in the dirt with a stick and grabbed some stones. Even Chaturanga, the Indian predecessor to Chess, Shogi and Xianqi, was based on familiar elements of Indian society at the time. Besides these superficial elements, a classic game's mechanics are often supremely efficient. Indeed, it's their elegance that made their transmission as memes so successful.

It's been about three or four years since I wrote those tips. Looking back, it doesn't seem like my process has changed that much. Perhaps now I'm more open to developing games with a bit more front-loaded complexity. Otherwise, the rest of this stuff is what I follow when I develop a new game. I'd like to toss in one important tip I didn't mention at the time.

Live more to play more.
I go through a long droughts of ideas. I'll keep producing, of course, and often that just leads to a recursive cycle of recycled ideas. I'll seclude game designer-brain in a mental quarantine, keeping it out of contact the other parts of my brain. ("If I buckle down even harder, if I keep at it another hour, I know this game idea will crack open and reveal its secrets.") This is a bad thing.

The only way to break out of the drought is to add water. In this case, to watch more movies, spend more time with friends, talk to people of different backgrounds, and just absorb as much of their nutritious, life-giving sustenance as you can. Okay, this metaphor is getting creepy. But I'm saying you can't work in a total vacuum. A closed mental system won't produce anything that wasn't in the system already. (This leads to a discussion of productivity vs creativity that I'll talk about later.)

So, open up your experience. The easiest way to get started is to play more games. Take notes. Think about them, but don't linger. Keep absorbing until you're sated, then get to work synthesizing those ideas into a great new game.

» Original Thread
» Photo: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

The Leftovers in "The Room of Spiky Things"

The Leftovers return to the call of adventure and cowardice in The Room of Spiky Things, suggested by you, the viewers! Here you'll find all the hazards you'd expect, like a cactus, stalagmites, rakes and mohawks. New tools are also available, like punch, a comb... and the crown. But wait, new dangers abound!

If you're the unfortunate soul to land a word on this space, you'll lose one of your precious items. Say goodbye to the celery from the Bunny's Burrow. Sniff farewell to the cologne you picked up in the Pit.

This space requires two words to be filled instead of just one! All the better to slow down your progress so the Monster can eat your sniveling heroes. Test your wit and might against The Room of Spiky Things.

» Download: The Room of Spiky Things

Skippy's cannibalistic Happy Birthday, Robot!

Scott Merrill heard about Happy Birthday, Robot! from the promos on the Drabblecast. Here's the story he and his friends created:

Robot met an old friend, but he was different.
Robot was saddened with disbelief, but smiled broadly.
Robot said exactly what he felt, "One arm suits you!"
Robot's friend frowned and took off running, but came back.
Robot said, "Excuse me, I though you knew that I eat appendages."
"Specifically, your's and my brother's."
A foot fell off Robot's friend, who exclaimed "Mon frere!"
Robot's eye widened and he reached for his friend's purple face.
Robot ripped his nose and screamed "I'll enjoy you, friend/brother!"
Robot hugged his brother tightly.
They both wept.
Robot chewed slowly.

Oh my. With friends like these, who needs snacks? I guess that just goes to show how the average Drabblecast listener plays the game. Remind me to be cautious if I'm ever invited to dinner by Scott's friends.

» Full review at

Megan and Daniel Play ________

Megan and Daniel play
Starting next week, and continuing intermittently, Megan and I will share our thoughts on games we play. Not-quite-reviews from an active married couple who love playing all sorts of games. Generally we'll focus on games we actually enjoy, so these will all be pretty positive.

Currently on the docket:

Last Word
Word on the Street
Jungle Speed
Catan Card Game
Race for the Galaxy
3 Stones

We're curious. What would you like to see in these features?

My favorite game console is a table and chairs.

Man, I'm kind of on a t-shirt kick right now. I said this on Twitter today and some people wanted a t-shirt. These shirts are now available from my CafePress store.

» Graphic licensed on Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike: Vector EPS
» UPDATE: By popular request, here's a new commonwealth version.

Cutting Libraries in a Recession is like Cutting Hospitals in a Plague

Cutting Libraries in a Recession is like Cutting Hospitals in a Plague - Eleanor Crumblehulme

This design is based on an original tweet from Eleanor Crumblehulme to Neil Gaiman last year. Neil requested a t-shirt, so I submitted this design and released it on creative commons. The American Library Association Midwinter Meeting is next weekend and this graphic was quite popular during the ALA meeting last summer. There is still time to get your shirt shipped. Here's a quick overview of what is available at cafepress:

Men's Ringer T Women's Cap Sleeve T Women's Plus Size V-Neck Dark Women's Organic Fitted

» Men's Ringer T
» Women's Cap Sleeve
» Women's Plus Size V-Neck
» Women's Organic Fitted
» Vector EPS Download: CuttingLibraries.eps released under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.