This page is presented to further games as a means of learning and exploration.

Abstract Games

Explore topology, construction, game play,
and other concepts.

System Models…
(this page)

of ecology, society, economy,
and other real situations.

Social Explorations …

of peoples’ thoughts, attitudes
and interactions.

“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

Copyright Notice
All the games shown below are copyright © 2007-2016 by Lincoln Stoller, except where otherwise noted.

Coral Polyps, and the Budding Reef Band

Players complete to grow the fattest coral animals in a community of fat animals.

Each of up to 4 players has 165 square, magnetized pieces whose 10 different types correspond to 10 different kinds of cells of a coral organism. The icon on each type of piece shows how the piece is connected.

The metal board, with 945 squares, represents the reef habitat: the edges are the reef, the interior the water.

One D6, D8, and D10 die, used at the start of the game, locate where each player’s eggs attach to the reef.

2 to 4 people, ages 12+Playing time: 30 to 60 minutes.

The game began as pieces arranged to form computer algorithms – complete with loops and conditionals – which ran, at least in theory, to generate game points. But since the resulting automata look like corals whose competition models reef ecology, the entire computer programming structure is absorbed within the living system metaphor.

Each player builds coral animals of their own color by placing pieces representing different hard and soft tissues such as anchor, spine, nerve, heart, and stomach.

Within each turn player’s animals grow and spawn. Animal can attack each other resulting in minor damage that requires repair, or major damage that severes the animal from its anchor at the edge of the reef causing it to float away and be lost in the current.

Structurally complete animals with fully developed organs can eat and thereby create fat cells. The more efficient the animal’s structure, and the better its location, the fatter it gets.

The player whose coral is fattest when any one player runs out of pieces wins the round and gets a score equal to the fat that all players’ corals have grown in that round. The player with the highest total score after four rounds wins the game.

Since one wins by both fattening oneself and one’s opponents, this game is a combination of conflict, race, and cooperation.

Global Warning

A complex civilization-type game where each player guides 6 nomadic tribes through a landscape of scarce resources adopting a diffuse or centralized strategy. The game frames the question : “is it better to act as an individual or to form a collective?”

150 loose squares that players assemble into a board. Squares are of the type: water, plains, mountain, woodland, and swamp. 15 resource sites, scattered at random, that provide varying amounts of energy once they are “mined”. Each of a player’s 6 tribes are represented by four dice that track food, population, power, and time. 30 “environment” cards giving conditions that affect each tribe and change with each round.

2 to 3 people, ages 12+

Playing Time:
90 to 120 minutes

Concept: Civilizations develop differently according to the resources on which they depend. This game explores issues of growth and stability that arise from different forms of resource dependence.

Each player gets an equal number of squares with which to build their part of the world before the game begins. Players locate their tribes and resources are then scattered to equal advantage.

Tribe movements depend on tribe size, their strength, the terrain they choose to cross, and the exogenous situations prevailing at their location.

To survive and prosper tribes need energy, which they can get through mining resources, building industry, collaborating with or stealing from other tribes.

Larger tribes are more efficient in production and they can develop military forces, but smaller tribes travel more quickly to exploit opportunity.

Whichever player has more energy at the end of 15 rounds wins the game.

Soar Plane Racing

Engineless sailplanes race over rough terrain using updrafts to gain altitude while avoiding the downdrafts that will push them toward the ground.
“The ground” is a rearrangeable set of 7 hexagons whose colored spaces represent elevation. “The air” is a transparent board that floats over the ground and whose spaces carry markings indicating the strength of the up and down drafts. 6 soar plane pieces and 6 sliders track each pilot’s position and altitude. 20 “lift cards”, a wind-direction-change die, a random gust die, and a 6-position wind direction marker.
2 to 6 people, ages 6+
Playing Time:
40 to 120 minutes.
This fully accurate presentation of soar plane racing makes it clear that the contest involves only two variables: one’s height above the ground, and one’s speed through the air. The player who best optimizes these in the context of what he or she knows about their environment will win the race.

The terrain board is a rearrangeable set of 7 hexagons whose colored spaces show mountains, forests, valleys, rivers and lakes. The air board is assembled in pieces as the game proceeds and represents calm air, cloud streets, sunny days and dangerous thunderstorms. This air board, carrying the up and down drafts, drifts in varying directions carrying all airplanes with it.

Pilots race a 3-point course through the peaks and valleys, while navigating the vertical air currents and the prevailing winds to avoid getting too low or hitting the ground.

The best lift will require you to stray off-course, and the faster you fly the faster you sink. Spend too much time trying to stay high and you’ll be left behind. Push too hard for speed and you won’t make it over the next hill!

The Mating Game

A strategy game of collaborating with weaker players and balancing resources to one’s advantage.

1 large pond board, 6 sets of frogs, 6 sets of fish and 6 heron, with each set a different color. 1 “chance of survival” die.

3 to 6 people, all ages

Playing Time:
30-50 minutes

The interacting system of pond ecology.

Players choose one of 6 populations that each consist of a number of frogs, fish and a heron. Starting at different locations players move their populations in an effort to mate with other players’ frogs and produce as many tadpoles as possible.

Frogs mate whenever they occupy the same space. Frogs of one color can only mate with frogs of another color, and when they do both populations gain one offspring.

Frogs can travel on land or in the water. They may be eaten by the fish when in deep water but they always get away when attacked in the shallows. Both frogs and fish may be eaten by herons when they’re on land or in the shallows.

Because both players involved in the act of mating gain from it, the obvious strategy is for all players to mate with the player with the fewest tadpoles, and to keep away from the player with the most. The winner is the player who either mates the most prolifically in a limited number of turns, or whose frog population outlasts all others.

The Trouble With Physics

Each player picks one of 4 Final Theories of the Universe and tries to publish the research needed to support their theory and win the Nobel prize. A straight-forward optimization game, or is it?

4 Final Theories, 4 universities, 1 NSF Grant Award Probability sheet, 7 senior researchers, 26 post docs, 90 Humanity cards, 4 Group Focus rings, 4 Research Success counters, 1 “Coffee & Pizza” die, 1 “Riesling & Sushi” die, 1 NSF Grant Award die. 30 1-mu notes, 6 1-Weinbuck notes, 4 Final Theory puzzles of 8 pieces each, and one bag labeled “The Unknown”.

2 to 4 people, ages 12+

Playing Time:
60 to 80 minutes

based a book of the same name * written by Lee Smolin, and my years of experience as a choirboy in the Church of Our Science, the Divine.

* Lee Smolin, “The Trouble With Physics” (Houghton-Mifflin, 2006)

Failure of attribution: Review of Genesis of the Big Bang

Dedicated to Paul K. Feyerabend.

Players chose a senior researcher, a university, a Final Theory of the Universe, and start with 2 Post Docs each. Each player sets their groups’ focus value, which they can change with each turn. This focus value, the size of their group, the human forces that affect you on each turn, and how well you reward your Post Docs determines your research success each turn.

For each “publication” you get to draw a piece from “The Unknown” in an attempt to be the first to assemble your final theory. But you must also pay your Post Docs, and the amount of funds available depends on your success in winning NSF grants. This, in turn, depends on the manner in which present your theory to the public.

The search for truth may be pure, but the forces that affect you are not. Just how does one play the game of science, anyway?

Chinese, Buddhists & Aliens

The Chinese want to destroy the Buddhists, the Buddhists want to return to their homeland, and the Extra-Terrestrials want to abduct humans. Three players pursue three different objectives using different pieces, with different powers, on a board that looks different to each.

A triangular board irregularly marked with 175 spaces representing cities, plains, mountains and marsh. 5 Chinese Tanks, 5 Buddhist Monks, 1 Abominable Snowman, 4 Aliens, 5 Buddhist Love tokens, 5 Buddhist Temples, 3 Sacred Relic tokens, 2 Alien Laboratory tokens.

3 people, ages 12 and above.

Playing Time:
20-40 minutes

I’m fascinated by asymmetric games — those in which each player moves in a different way, with different pieces, according to different rules and toward different goals — and believe they allow the telling of more interesting stories. Here I wanted to see just how asymmetric a game can be and still remain balanced, playable, and fun.

In creating this game I discovered that the story can reside in all elements of the game; every element and rule can play a role. And without symmetry there are many ways that things combine, so the game has many rules.

I discovered that it’s hard to balance asymmetric games in order to insure that the strategies remain subtle and the outcome uncertain. And I discovered that asymmetric games tell a new kind of story, the range of which is unexplored.

The game starts with the Chinese Tanks in Beijing, the Monks and Snowman in Dharamsala (the Indian city where the Dali Lama resides), and the Aliens floating in space.

On each turn players follow different rules to move their pieces across terrain presenting different obstacles to each. Chinese Tanks are fast across the plains, independent, and can attack. Buddhist Monks are slow, stay together, cooperate and are pacifists. Aliens have teleportation technology making distant sites immediately accessible, but move with difficulty across Earth’s terrain. The fearsome Yeti, or Abominable Snowman — ally and protector of the Monks — is master of the mountains.

Hidden at one of the three temples is the Buddha’s Hand, a sacred relic with the power to unite the Tibetan people. It is the Monks’ task to find this relic and return it to Lhasa. The Chinese, bent on domination, simply want to exterminate all the Monks. The Aliens, unkillable but slow, have come to earth in order to conduct medical experiments on humans.

Whom so ever achieves their goal first wins the game. To do this requires different strategies for each player, and each player must understand the other players’ options in order to make best use of their powers.

This one game is essentially three different games playing against each other. It plays surprisingly quickly, but there is more to it than meets the eye!

The Fruits of Plumbing

Maximize your profit as a plumbing sub-contractor bidding against other plumbers for resources. You profit from the spread between wholesale cost and resale price of the items you install, but if you’re too agressive you’ll go over-budget and behind schedule. You must measure auction risk, product defects, accidents, cash flow, and a General Contractor who plays one sub-contractor against another.

57-space Construction Project board, 72-space Inventory Display board , 36 Plumbing Components ranging from piping and furnaces to jacuzzis and solar heaters, 24 Seasonal Effect cards, 20 Game Story cards, 6 Insurance Policies, 8 Bidding markers, a bank of $1k, $5k and $10k bills, 14 Change Orders, 1 D6 die, 8 Player markers, 1 Part-time Helper.

4-5 people, ages 12 and above. One player takes the role of the General Contractor and plays against all the other players, who play the roles of the plumbing sub-contractors.

Playing Time:
40-70 minutes

I am exploring ways to tell a story through the actions of players who have no skill as authors, and who don’t know that there is a plot. But there is a story framed by the rules and objectives, driven by the balance of power, and guided by external events.

Each plumbing sub-contractor must purchase and install the heating, plumbing, kitchen and bath facilities in a newly constructed house. Each player must figure out how to maximize their profit given slightly different specifications.

Sub-contractors purchase the items they install from the General Contractor, who gets these items below cost and sells them to the plumbers for a mark-up. The General Contractor is your only source, and he or she will push the plumbers into purchasing the items with the highest mark-up. In this way the GC will pit one player against another in trying to get you to purchase the items most profitable for them, and not for you.

You’ll make more profit from selling high-end items, like kitchens from manufacturers like Wolf and Kohler, but low-end components by Ace and Sears will generate better cash flow and gain the advantage of finishing more quickly.

Should you buy accident insurance? Should you pay for extra help aiming for an Early Completion bonus? Maybe your money is better spent in bidding for more profitable items?

Your interests are clear in the short term, but the final outcome is not. It’s not clear if there is a long-term strategy, and it’s not even clear whether players should be competing or collaborating. If you and your plumbing sub-contractor competitors look out only for yourselves, then you’ll be fleeced by the GC and you’ll all lose!

Choose to play according to one of 5 game themes that include “Competition,” “Collaboration,” “Adversity,” or “Success.” Each theme injects a different set of twists and turns as your project progresses.