Explore topology, construction, game play,
and other concepts.
“To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence.”
— James Carse, in
Finite and Infinite Games: a vision of life as play and possibility
All the games shown below are copyright © 2007-2016 by Lincoln Stoller, except where otherwise noted.
A game of weighted probability, tri-inked strategies, and spatial perception.
1 wooden peg board, 1 wooden “barter” board, 6 money tokens, 1 die, 40 metal pegs, 3 sets of colored rubber bands.
2 or 3 people, all ages
20 to 40 minutes
The game appears unpredicable and can be played by young children as a surprising tug-of-war. In fact it’s highly strategic. Its difficulty lies in perceiving opportunity and in figuring out who’s winning.
Players construct and then vie for ownership of overlapping triangles in an effort to own a set of triangles that form a bridge from one side of the board to the other.
Each player chooses one of each triangles’ three vertices by placing a peg in the board. Players use their “money” to “purchase” faces of the die and thereby weight their chances of winning ownership of the triangle. The die is thrown and whom ever owns the die’s top face wins the triangle.
The winner encircles the triangle’s three pegs with a rubber band of their color. When a set of overlapping triangles of one color spans the board, the player associated with that color wins.
The classic strategy game cast on a field where color saturation equals power, and the substance of one’s strategy is recognized by the patterns that the pieces “paint” on the board.
1 wooden board, 32 wooden chess pieces.
2 people, 7+ years
20 to 40 minutes
Chess for the color-enhanced mind.
In ColorChess the opposing sides are blue and red, and the tactical value of each piece is keyed to its saturation of color. Thus the pawns are the lightest tint and the kings and queens the most vivid.
Being of uniform size, with subtle differences in shape to aid recognition, color becomes the major distinguishing characteristic. Set against the board’s neutral grid, the colored pieces create changing patterns as the game progresses.
The open spaces and clusters of color become descriptive diagrams of the action.
Copyright © 2006, Evan Stoller
Life Of Dreams
In this combination word game, Role Playing Game, and puzzle one writes one’s own life story, striving to assemble it in the most positive manner.
A large round board composed of 6 concentric rings of spaces. Each space carries a one-sentence story characterized by one positive and one negative adjective that conveys a personal attribute. Each space is connected to 3 spaces in the next larger ring. 4 character trait score cards are each divided into 5 positive attributes and 5 negative attributes. 4 sets of 5 counters with which players track their character traits by placing them on their character trait score cards. 4 player tokens in the shapes of buddha, skull, cat, and raven. A reference sheet that defines the 324 character attributes and locates each of these traits on the playing mazes. One playing maze for intellectual dreams, and one playing maze for emotional dreams. 8 slip-in word cards, each fitting into either of the two playing mazes. One 30-second timer.
2 to 4 people, ages 10+
30 to 60 minutes.
Text authors inflexibly engage readers because readers’ power to reinterpret the text is limited to nonexistent. How can we enable the reader to write their own story without abandoning or coercing them? Since readers generally do not know how to create a story how do we faciliate the creation of their journey? This game suggests an answer.
Players choose their avatar and place it on one of the 4 “birth” spaces at the center of the board. In the “conscious” part of each round players move their avatars in steps from the inner rings outward, choosing one of the 3 paths available to them at any space. Once they’ve chosen a new space, players write down the sentence written on the space and mark the positive and negative attributes embedded in it.
In the “dream” part of each round players chose to enter either the intellectual or the emotional dream maze. They locate one of their negative character traits in the maze of their choice and then start the timer.
Each player has 30 seconds to move away from this negative trait, past sentence fragments and images, to reach some other trait. Whatever trait they reach is exchanged for the negative trait from which they started. Each player must then write a sentence describing this transformation using the sentence fragments they’ve encountered in their passage through the maze.
Players’ lives end after 5 rounds. They’re scored according to how successfully they’ve transformed negative into positive attributes. The winning player is the one who has most improved him or her self.
Robin Hood & The Sheriff of Nottingham
A simple, fast-playing shooting game in which one player’s move overlaps the move of the next player, and in which no one can seem to get away from anyone else.
Pieces: 1 board with 10 differently colored closed paths. 4 different colored “actors”. 12 “arrows” that either lie on the ground, are carried by the actors, or fly through the air.
2 to 4 people, ages 5+
10 to 20 minutes
The board is an unfolded dodecahedron so that, appearances aside, all locations are symmetric. The game play was inspired by “Maze Wars” which, in 1974, was the first computer networked, 3D, multi-user, first-person shooter game.
Players choose to join Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham, the Noblemen, or the Fairies. They position their actors symmetrically on the board and place the arrows on certain unoccupied spaces.
Players take turns moving two of their pieces one space each in a race to pick up fallen arrows, carry them to judicious locations, and fire them at their adversaries.
The arrows continue flying around the board while other players take their turns, trying to pick up fallen arrows while avoiding those in flight. When an actor is hit by an arrow they’re sent to nirvana.
The arrow that dispatched them falls to the ground to be picked up by whomever gets to it first.
The last player to remain on the board wins.
A complex capture strategy game in which the players’ pieces move in groups, and the power of one’s group is determined by the powers of individual pieces which vary by location.
1 star-shaped board composed of 35 triangular spaces, 5 diamonds and a pentagon. 2 sets of wooden pieces, one set red and the other set green. Each piece is one of 4 different shapes, triangle, diamond, circle or star, and each piece carries one of 9 different celestial symbols.
2 people, ages 10+
40 to 60 minutes
The board is a 2-dimensional projection of a 5-dimensional potential surface, forcing players to think in 5-dimesnions.
Red and the green players arrange their pieces symmetrically in 4 of the star’s 5 legs. Each space carries between 1 and 5 symbols. Pieces move in different manners according to their shape.
A piece’s power is determined by whether the symbol that it carries matches any of the symbols printed on the space it occupies. A player’s total power on a space is the sum of the powers of their pieces.
Players move their pieces in and between groups in an attempt to overpower and remove the opposing player’s pieces.
The surviving player wins.
A simple, fast-playing shooting game in which players moves overlap, and in which no one can seem to get away from anyone else. Similar to “Robin Hood” above, but built on a different topology.
A 3-dimensional, perforated globe that’s crisscrossed by a lattice of paths of 3 colors. 2 or 3 different colored “actors” affix themselves to holes in the board using pegs. 12 “arrows” that are either pegged to unoccupied holes, are carried by the actors, or are sent flying along the paths.
2 to 3 people, ages 5+
The board is a 6 sided, non-Platonic solid whose surface is covered by 3 mutually and multiply intersecting paths. This shape is mounted on a wooden pole and can be spun around its axis.
The game developed when my brother looked at “Robin Hood,” shown above, and asked, “Why is it flat?”
Players position their actors symmetrically around the corners of planet Ugluk, placing the arrows on pegs at certain unoccupied vertices of the colored paths.
Players take turns moving two of their pieces in a race to pick up fallen arrows, carry them to judicious locations, and fire them at their adversaries.
The arrows continue flying around the globe while other players take their turns, trying to pick up fallen arrows while avoiding those in flight.
When an actor is hit by an arrow they’re sent to nirvana and the arrow falls to the ground to be picked up by whomever gets to it first.
On this surface the geodesics change direction in odd ways as they cross surface boundaries, so the problem is to figure out how the arrows will fly, and how to sneak up on other players without being noticed.
The last player to remain on the board wins.
Game Out Of Balance
This strange strategy game begins without goals or rules. On each turn a type of movement, kind of interaction, or instruction for scoring is added from each players’ hand of cards and the game proceeds according to these rules. The winner is the player who best manages their hand, using the emerging rules to accomplish the emerging goals.
A 10×10 square grid board divided into 5×5 and 3×3 quadrants. 10 black and 10 red chips. 8 Start, 12 Movement, 12 Intereaction, and 12 Score cards. One D6 die.
2 people, ages 12+
This game started as a test of James Carse’s philosophical idea that life is an “infinite game” without intrinsic goals or rules*.
Starting with a blank board and asking players to take turns creating rules and goals I discovered that such a game is practically impossible because without goals people cannot focus, and without rules they cannot discriminate. I continued adding structure until the game became engaging, and this is the result. From this experiment I conclude that life without goals or rules is not a game that humans can play.
Games lacking structure gets us closer to a games as a container for pure imagination. In such a game content may be unlimited and the field of possibilities becomes large. For a similar effort see Peter Suber’s “Nomic,” a game of self-amendment.
* James P. Carse, “Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility” (Ballantine, 1987)
Dedicated to James P. Carse
Players begin with an empty board, 10 red or 10 black chips, and a hand of 4 cards consisting of one Start, Movement, Interaction, and Score card that were dealt to them from shuffled decks of each of these types of cards.
The players play their Start card and place their pieces on the board according to its instruction. Players then take turns playing one card per turn. The card they play either adds a rule of movement, interaction, or score to the game, or can be used to override a rule of movement, interaction, or score that was played before.
After playing a card each player moves their pieces according to one of the Movement rules in play, and has their pieces interact with their opponent’s pieces according to one of the Interaction rules in play.
After each turn the players replenish their hand by drawing a card from their choice of Movement, Interaction, or Score card decks.
After 8 rounds players calculate their score according to the Score cards they have put into play. The player with the highest score wins.
Battle In Vector Zero
Two to four players build different kinds of ships and send them onto the board to drag back the gems and win the game. Winning depends on designing the right ships for your strategy and defending your ships from attack. The game is competitive with 2 to 4 players, and can played collaboratively with teams of 2.
Each player has 4 engines, 5 cannons, and 5 missiles. Four gems are placed symmetrically in the center of the board.
2 to 4 players, ages 8+.
30 to 45 minutes
Several games have appeared that teach programming skills by presenting algorithms as solutions to puzzles. Puzzle algorithms embody no life. This game focuses on algorithms whose effect depends on feedback from their environment. These sorts of algorithms create dynamic, self-organizing structures.
Vector Zero is a game of self-organizing algorithms. By exploring self-organizing algorithms players expand their own thinking beyond the limits of the puzzle itself. The players become self-organizing.
Players’ ships are built from any number of engines and cannons in any configuration. They move across the board depending on their construction: adding two spaces of movement for every engine the ship contains, and subtracting one space for every cannon or gem that is attached. Ships with lots of engines are freighters, ships with lot of cannons are frigates.
Engines push other pieces but cannot fire missiles. Cannons fire missiles but cannot move unless they’re towed by an engine. Players can build and have in play any number of ships of any configuration. Any number of pieces can be attached or detached on a given move as they come adjacent to each other on that move.
Cannons fire guided missiles in any direction. Missiles move a fixed number of spaces in one direction on each turn, and can then turn and move in another direction on the next move. Missiles destroy whatever piece they hit. Pieces and missiles destroyed return to play on the next move.
Each player, or each team of players, tries to attach their engines to and tow back gems from the center of the board. The first player or team to bring 2 gems to their port wins the game.