Back to previous post: Note to self:

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Just Testing

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

January 30, 2008

Making your own fun
Posted by Avram Grumer at 12:32 AM * 62 comments

I saw Cory Doctorow’s post today yesterday about Looney Labs’s polymorphous card game Fluxx (kicked off by Greg Costikyan’s review).

I’m quite familiar with Fluxx — Kevin Maroney got a copy just after (or maybe even before) it was first released; I remember the cards being entirely black-and-white, without even the colored stripes down the sides. It’s a perennial favorite at Columbia University Games Club, where we go in for both the quick and light stuff like Fluxx and the deeper, more strategic stuff like Puerto Rico.

One thing that neither Greg nor Cory mentioned is that Looney Labs encourages you to customize your Fluxx deck. They sell Fluxx Blanxx, blank-faced Fluxx cards you can finish with your own card ideas.

One of Andrew Looney’s earlier games was Icehouse, a more complicated game played with plastic pyramids. (Or wood, or paper, but they were using solid plastic pieces when I first saw the game being played at a Baitcon around 1990.) It took a while for Looney to come up with the commercially-viable hollow plastic pieces he now sells, but once the pieces could be had for a reasonable price, it turned out that there was a lot you could do with them. A small community of boardgame hobbyists grew around Icehouse, coming up with new games, some using just the pyramids, others adding in checkerboards or tarot decks or other Looney games.

This kind of thing—where you invite your customers in on the fun, and they take on some of the qualities of co-authors—seems especially well-suited to the Internet age. (In fact, looking at this page of photos from Arisia 2003 reminded me that I was working on a Carcassonne-like game involving Icehouse pyramids and Aquarius cards. Since then, Carcassonne: The Discovery has come out, which has given me the idea I needed to finish my design.)

Other examples:

Vincent Baker’s Mechaton, a giant robot miniatures wargame where you build your warbot out of Lego.

The Piecepack, a set of public-domain boardgame pieces designed to be useful for a variety of boardgames, the same way standard playing cards lend themselves to a variety of card games., a platform for playing games online, open for developers to design their own games. It’s still in development, but you can already play more than a dozen games on it, including Fluxx and a few other Looney Labs games.

Comments on Making your own fun:
#1 ::: Fuzzy Gerdes ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 01:05 AM:

My favorite of this type of wide-open game is the totally player-made 1000 Blank White Cards. (I usually actually play with a pack of a couple hundred index cards). It's been *totally* different every time I've played -- from hard-core rule-tweaking to just fun arty messing around.

#2 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 01:07 AM:

The same is true for instruments.

I inheirited what turns out to be a baritone uke, but I found out one can string it as a tenor guitar, tune it a a mandolin, and all sorts of other variations.

Absent membership in a group of serious string players I'd never have found this out.

So tomorrow I'll be buying new strings, and learning a new instrument.

#3 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 01:11 AM:

Maia's family plays a game called Mao.

I hate it. The first rule is the game is played in silence, unless a rule is broken, at which point the player who spots the violation says, "point of order" and all cards are downed.

When the violation is noted, or some other point which needs to be adressed is resolved the cards are reclaimed and play resumes.

It uses three decks (usually).

When all cards are gone from a players hand, that player wins, and gets to make a new rule.

Apart from the explanation I just gave, all the rules are secret, and must be deduced from seeing the things which are termed violations (which are penalised by the taking of cards from the deck).

It sounded like something I would enjoy. I was wrong. I've tried to play it a number of times, and always was more frustrated than the pleasure of play provided.

I think, actually, it's the silence which kills it for me.

#4 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 02:20 AM:

Terry: there are many variants of Mao, and some don't require silence. That said, the silence does contribute to the atmosphere IMO.

#5 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:03 AM:

Games with no rules are like playing net without a tennis.

#6 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:17 AM:

I am quite certain that only copyright issues prevented Fluxx from being called Fizzbin.

Generally speaking, I dislike games with morphing rules. I've encountered a couple of examples where once a certain card comes into play, the rules about some things change for the rest of the game, and that's about as much morphing as I can deal with.

#7 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:37 AM:

Jules: I know there are lots of versions, but the first one I played has probably soured me on the rest.

#8 ::: Christian Severin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:52 AM:

There are lots of games with active rules tweaking communities:
the games by Doris & Frank, for instance, usually get supplemented by additional rules invented by the playtesters or, later, the players in the wild. "Igel ärgern" ("Hurry up, Hedgehog") has more than three dozen rule variations built in, and their "Primordial Soup" has been spiced up by several dozen new genes.

Then, of course, there is the active playing community for Klaus Teuber's "The Settlers of Catan" or for, well, a whole lot of other games, really.

So the idea of letting others join in the creative process of tweaking a game isn't all that new -- but games like Fluxx or "Knightmare Chess" et al. allow the tweaking during the game, which adds a whole new dimension.

#9 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 04:05 AM:

It's no good.

You Americans are having elections like they're going out of fashion.

So it's time to make my own fun...

You may have seen this Zeppelin before.... And I know these guys are too close together. While this isn't the Wolfette picture that makes me think I should go and hide.

(I only recall meeting two of the real Wolfettes, and one of those two committed fanfic of a slightly Mary-Sue sort, but I have a feeling there was a third.)

And, while checking for other stuff, I found somebody explaining how to sing a sonnet to the tune of "Stairway to Heaven", and I doubt I shall make it to the filk con. Maybe I ought to dig into the lip-sync and animation side of CGI: if there can be the Medieval Babes, why not the Elizabethan Vixens? No, I'm being silly.

BTW, I've realised why the Beatnix look wrong. All three guitar-players are right-handed.

#10 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 04:14 AM:

And, for the more physically-active, there's always Calvinball.

#11 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 04:37 AM:

Terry: The version I played has the slight variation that Points of Order need not be violations; the thing that can need to be addressed can be the fact that a silly comment needs to be said at that time.

But, yeah, I can see that souring it. We lost an entire games group to a few people starting to play Bridge, once -- the foundation of the group had been Spades, which takes about half a brain and leaves the other half free for carrying on conversations on vast and wide-ranging subjects. Bridge, on the other hand, requires full concentration (especially for people learning it), and seemed to encourage the sort of seriousness that made the players unhappy about being distracted by conversation going on around them. And it turned out that for a lot of us, half the point was the conversation (and the fact that the games provided a matrix whereby being an introvert and just listening sometimes was perfectly okay).

#12 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 04:57 AM:

...but games like Fluxx or "Knightmare Chess" et al. allow the tweaking during the game, which adds a whole new dimension.

In Fluxx the tweaking is the game. A Fluxx game begins with no goal and only one rule - draw one card then play one card - everything else follows from the cards played. Some cards can set goals and you can play towards them if you like but they can change before you reach them. It usually ends when one player manages to play both the cards they have and the goals into synch.

I really, really like Fluxx.

#13 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 05:00 AM:

Avram almost, but not quite mentioned one of the largest examples of companies doing this thing: LEGO!

According to a recent newspaper article here, ten percent of what LEGO nows sells is custom kits for people who design their own, using the LEGO design website. LEGO also organises design competitions and has taken several winners into regular production, with the designers getting a royalty big enough to live on...

#14 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 06:01 AM:

And we just missed the anniverasy of the LEGO patent: 28th January 1958.

According to Wikipedia it took another four or five years to get the production details right, but that makes me one of the first of the LEGO Generation.

And maybe, accidents of family history, I caught the tail-end of Meccano, too.

#15 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 07:58 AM:

I like Fluxx in concept better than I do in execution. Unlike Nomic, the set of possible rules and actions are fixed during play. i.e., you are limited to the cards already in the deck. You don't get to add or subtract Fluxx cards while a Fluxx game is going on. You can't alter the mechanics of the game. While the goal nominally changes throughout the game, it's almost always a variant of "have these X cards placed in front of you."

This means that an excellent tactic for playing Fluxx is to play as many cards as possible during your turn while denying others the same opportunity, if possible. You're hoping that somewhere in the random stream, you'll pick up the cards necessary to win. It's not a game of incremental progress to victory. It's a game of hoping that you can draw and play all the cards you need to win on a given turn.

Also, it's possible to get the game into modes where you have no choice over what you play (although you may get to choose the order). In these modes, you're as likely to win by accident than intent. This makes the game feel really arbitrary. (The next time I play Fluxx, perhaps I should suggest that we should evolve the deck as we play...)

#11: You've just described my lunch time game group at work. We used to play a diversity of games. Now, we're somewhat hardcore duplicate bridge players. We have written out bidding conventions. One of us even tracks our relative rankings on a spreadsheet which he publishes daily on our intranet.

Conversation isn't totally gone, but it's close. Often, it's likely to discuss bridge convention. (e.g., are transfers on over a 1NT overcall? We eventually decided that we play transfers off, but 2 Club is Stayman.) Every once in a while, people get silly. Occasionally, people lament getting screwed on the replay. That's about it though.

(I suppose duplicate bridge is anti-Fluxx. Playing each set of hands twice and using relative ranking is supposed to cancel out any randomness in the cards. i.e., what matters is how well you do relative to another set of players playing exactly the same set of hands.)

#16 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 08:45 AM:

My favorite Icehouse game, hands-down, is Zendo. One player decides on a rule--something like "must contain a red piece" or "must not contain any small pieces" and builds one "koan" following the rule and one that breaks it. Then the other players have to work out what the rule is by building their own koans and asking the master whether they follow the rules or not. It's very entertaining.

For make-your-own games, though, I think Nomic has to take the cake. Any rule you want and can convince other players to enact, you can have. If you want a rule that the person who wins the Boston Marathon gets points in your game, you can have it. Great fun, if you can find players with the right kind of creativity (and convince them not to start with the original ruleset, which is clunky).

#17 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 08:50 AM:

I really like Fluxx, but wish I could bring it home and teach my family. My mother's brain almost melted when confronted with Apples to Apples; I'm not sure what she'd do with this.

I've been trying to find a reasonably-priced Betrayal at House on the Hill. It's like Clue played by a bunch of chemically interesting D&D players, and changes every time. You explore a house, find things, and eventually kick off a haunting... which leads to someone in the party betraying you and controlling the haunt to some extent. It's a lot of fun.

#18 ::: Peter Darby ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 09:29 AM:

Diatryma, may I recommend Shadows over camelot as a great "Co-operative, but someone is probably trying to screw us" game: 3-7 players, each of which pick one of eight tokens at the start. One of the tokens marks you as the traitor who wins if everyone else loses. So even in an eight player game, you might not have a traitor...

For a horror themed co-operative like BaHotH, there's the revamp of Arkham Horror

#19 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 09:41 AM:

Fluxx is neat in theory, but deadly dull in practice. Typically, you can't do anything when it's not your turn, so you just sit there and wait for someone else's interminably long turn to be over; and since the game changes radically moment to moment, there's no point thinking or strategizing when you're not playing, so people tend to just check out of the game up until the minute they need to play their hand, leading to an experience not unlike serial solitaire. (And that's if you get to play at all; if you play with 5-6 people, there's a good chance at least one person won't even get a chance to play at all.)

Neat experiment, fun boundary case for defining "game", but not really enjoyable. If I'm looking for a light card game to play, I'll play Reiner Knizia's Lost Cities, Uwe Rosenberg's Bohnanza, or Friedemann Friese's Felix: The Cat in the Sack, all of which are actual games with player interaction, meaningful choices, and fun.

#20 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 09:50 AM:

Avram, thought you should know:

The new CUGC website is seriously borked. It contains no info about the time + location of meetings, no links, no quote list, etc. (and the old website automatically redirects you to the new one after 5 seconds).

I was looking CUGC up because I'm in the area; unfortunately meeting times are inconvenient.

#21 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 10:20 AM:

I agree with the negative comments on Fluxx - I like the game in theory, but not in practice. It does make me want to try Lemma one of these days, though (whether it really works as a game is open to question, but it needs to be tried at least once).

When recommending Arkham Horror in place of Betrayal at House on the Hill it should be noted that the former takes much longer to play than the latter. Betrayal takes an hour, maybe a bit more if there is a full complement of players or the haunt that comes up is very well-balanced. Arkham Horror takes at least three hours, based on observation and reports.

Zendo is an OK induction game - I like the counterexample creation - but I found it hard to keep track of the information being presented because of the form. I'm afraid it made me want to play Eleusis (the first of this kind of game) again more than it made me want to play Zendo again.

#22 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 10:24 AM:

To tie together two posts in this thread: If you like the idea of Mao, but don't like playing in silence or feeling like all the other players are playing a joke on you, try Zendo. It is the best-balanced "figure out the rule from evidence" game I know.

#23 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 10:26 AM:

Puerto Rico! I live for Puerto Rico.

No, wait. Preposition trouble: I live in Puerto Rico. But obviously, now I have to check out the game as well. It'd be a great history lesson for the kids. (I think we're going back to homeschooling next year.)

I do know a coffee farmer, though. Fifth-generation...

#24 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 10:35 AM:

Eh. Now that I've read up on PR at, I'm thinking it wouldn't be all that valuable as a history lesson.

Here's what burns my butt with things like this: would it have killed them to use an actual map of Puerto Rico? It's not like we don't have a conveniently rectangular shape already -- and maybe you'd learn just a smidgen of something useful outside the actual game. (Like my knowledge of world geography, which started with weekly games of Risk at home -- I've never needed to know where Yakutsk is, but at least I had a general framework of where things more or less were in the world.)

#25 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 11:18 AM:

‘Apples to Apples’ is another fan-beloved game which encourages personalized expansions – they sell blank cards.
Someone (please add the credit if you know it!) has done a fannish expansion deck, which makes the game even moreso at cons.

#26 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 11:21 AM:

Michael Roberts @24: I've discovered that my current game of choice is quite helpful as a geography lesson (and history, although not at work), although it does occasionally offer odd temptations.

The game is an MMO called "Pirates of the Burning Sea". I often find myself calling up the game map in my head when trying to locate customers in the Caribbean.

When a customer told me they were in Marsh Harbor on Abaco, however, I had to fight off the urge to tell them that I was sorry, but we don't do business with pirates. (Marsh Harbor is the starting port for pirate characters.)

#27 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 11:54 AM:

Regarding the games mentioned so far:

I played my first game of Shadows over Camelot this weekend at Vericon, and was quite impressed, although I'm not sure how much potential it has for repeat gaming.

I adore Zendo (and would recommend Ricochet Robots to any Zendo fans; although the games use different mechanics, the "figure out the pattern" part of my brain likes them in the same way). Of all Icehouse games, it's the one that I keep coming back to.

I like Fluxx a lot, but Chrononauts (which can, unlike PR, work as a history lesson for kids) is the one I play most often with our daughter.

Puerto Rico is simply my favorite game. Period. Like many Eurogames, it's a game concept with a name and geographical area tacked on. But it's a damned fine game, and one that I've never tired of.

Although it's been mentioned in the thread, I don't think I've seen a link, so it's worth pointing folks to BoardGameGeek, where info on just about every game ever can be found (as well as reviews, alternate rules, and folks selling spare parts).

#28 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 11:58 AM:

And I feel dumb for completely failing to see the links in Dan Blum's post at #21, which pointed right at the Geek.

I haven't played Arkham Horror yet, but I'm a huge fan of Betrayal at House on the Hill. That said, if anyone finds a used set (new ones are rare, as the game's currently between printings), remember to hit Avalon Hill's site and grab the errata. This is one game that really, really needs the corrections.

#29 ::: Phil Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:03 PM:

My favorite make-yer-own game is The Big Idea courtesy of the folks at Cheapass Games. The game comes with two decks of cards, one of adjectives and one of nouns and over the course of the game each player combines a card from each stack to make a new product (i.e. Flammable Beer) which they then pitch to the other players, followed by a bidding round. Theoretically, whoever has the most money at the end wins, but the point of the game is to have fun with the pitch, similar to seeing folks defend their cards in Apples to Apples.

The Big Idea is a hoot right out of the box, but every time I've played we wound up making a couple of dozen cards afterwards to add to the game. No special blank cards necessary, just cut up some note cards, label 'em, and illustrate 'em as best you can. This makes it even more of a hoot and while Cheapass will sell you an expansion it's much more satisfying tomake your own.

I recommend The Big Idea very highly to folks looking for light, cheap (cheapass, even) social games, especially any Apples to Apples fans who might be looking for something new to play.

#30 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:09 PM:

I've played Fluxx several times with different relatives and friends who own decks, and enjoyed it pretty well, but wouldn't want to play it often. There's not much strategy to it, as other commenters here have noted, and with a large number of people it can be frustrating when the direction of play keeps changing and some people go a long time without getting a turn.

I prefer Looney Labs' _Chrononauts_, a time travel card game. The original version, which I have, has a timeline from 1865 to 1999; I understand they now have an Early American Chrononauts deck whose timeline ends roughly where the original versions' deck begins. Each player comes from a different timeline and is trying to change the past so that they can go home to their own future.

My brother and his roommate have a complex rpg/wargame/boardgame which they've been developing and tinkering for over ten years, since they were in college. I haven't played any of the recent versions because whenever I go to visit them we play a different RPG (also home-grown).

I've devised several games over the years, including an open-ended chesslike boardgame where, on each turn, a player can put a new piece in play or move an existing piece; the board starts out empty. The catch is that when one player says "I want to put a new piece *here*", the opposing player designs the piece they get; every piece is unique, with a different motion and capturing rule, and some pieces can affect the general rules in different ways while in play.

Another is a domino game, called Egleston for the hospital I was in when I designed it -- it's designed for compactness, so it can be played on a hospital room's small table. It's my nuclear family's favorite game; we play it nearly every time we're together for more than a day, but experiments with teaching it to my Mom's extended family were not markedly successful. My Dad's extended family picked up on it better.

Most recently I have been working on a language creation card game, Glossotechnia; I playtested it several times last summer with different friends and relations, including two games at the Language Creation Conference in Berkeley. Parts of the design were influenced by Fluxx and Chrononauts.

#31 ::: Marc Moskowitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:21 PM:

Phil @29,
The Big Idea is actually hilarious when simply played using an Apples to Apples deck.

#32 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:24 PM:

Michael Roberts, #24: Heh. This reminds me of the time during the Bosnia conflict when one of our regular rail-game players said, "Y'know, I really hate to sound stupid -- but where's Bosnia?"

I said, "It's around Sarajevo" -- which is one of the cities on the Eurorails map.

He said, "Oh! Okay."

#33 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:28 PM:

While googling to find where the Glossotechnia rules were posted, I found a thread on the Zompist Bulletin Board where people were talking about designing their own variants of Glossotechnia and playing them. That makes me happy.

#34 ::: Scott Wyngarden ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:32 PM:

Lee @32

I was always a bit annoyed that I could never convince my family to play Eurorails. It's too bad I didn't find out about Nipponrails until long after we had stopped doing routine family gaming, I think they might have gone for the shorter game length.

#35 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:34 PM:

I highly recommend all the Cheapass games. Their Deadwood is not a "make your own" (though it's easy enough to add cards) but it has been the hit of most of our rare gaming sessions.

#36 ::: Phil Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:43 PM:

Marc @31, that's a terrific idea. I'm looking forward to trying it out.

#37 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 12:58 PM:

In the spirit of suggestions for cheap social games, there's always 1000 Blank White Cards. Sadly, I've never had a chance to actually play this, but I'd sure like to.

#38 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 01:55 PM:

Phil Lee @ 29: Along the lines of The Big Idea, I was really enamoured with the concept of X-Machina, by Blood-and-Cardstock Games. It's sort of a combination of that and Rube Goldberg; rather than having a verb and a noun, you have somewhat improbable components to combine.

Sadly, though I bought a spiffy pre-release copy, I think I've only actually played it once, and the group wasn't really right for it. I rediscovered the box recently while unpacking, though, and I think that this must be rectified. Perhaps this weekend.

#39 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 02:47 PM:

I normally don't like to play card games, but Fluxx is fun, even though I get too much in my head to win. In college (late 60s, early 70s), we played Eleusis a lot.

Dave Bell #9: If you're looking for "Elizabethan Vixens", try Miranda Sex Garden. There's some overlap between them and the Baebes. I don't know if they're still performing or recording, but their recordings are still available. The first one, Madra, is straightforward madrigals. The later ones aren't.

#40 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:10 PM:

Jim Henry #30, do you have the rules for Egleston written up? I like compact games; they're easy to carry. (I carry around a Treehouse set and a set of Martian Coasters in my shoulder bag.)

Early American Chrononauts is, as I recall, designed so that it can be played either by itself or together with regular Chrononauts. I've only played it once, though, and I think that was while it was still in development.

#41 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:11 PM:

Oh, and speaking of Nomic (which several people have mentioned), has anyone else here heard of Mornington Nomic?

#42 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 03:31 PM:

I don't quite get why they felt the need to construct a set of rules for MC. I mean, yeah, The Little Book of Mornington Crescent is out of print, but it can't be that hard to find a copy, can it?

#43 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 05:34 PM:

Well, yes, but they're usually copies of the Third Edition, which suffered a terrible printer's error, in which pp 17-32 were printed twice, which lost a critical part of the game rules. McAllister claims that an analysis of Chapter IV allowers one to infer the missing material. but Cobham and Richards disagree.

#44 ::: Andy Lange ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 08:28 PM:

While I really enjoy Puerto Rico, there's a game I like better called Race for the Galaxy which has a lot of the same feel, despite being a space-themed (non-collectible) card game.

A helpful BGG post highlights some of the differences (good and bad) for game players

#45 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 08:54 PM:

I worked at a small independent game store for the last few years, and love to see threads like this. There are really some quite fantastic games around now; if you haven't played board games since Monopoly, it's worth checking out some of the new generation, since things have improved remarkably.

I can't let a gaming thread go by without recommending Hive. It's a two player abstract strategy game, a bit like chess in that each type of piece has its own power and its own fatal flaw. It's great, really just great. You can play online against an AI here for free. I've bought a set from the designer and then made a couple of travelling sets from cardstock, so I always have one with me. If you like thinky games that take under 30 minutes, do check it out.

Several people above mentioned Puerto Rico. It's great fun, but teaches nothing about actual Puerto Rico. A shorter and less complex game that retains much of the strategic interest is the card game version, San Juan. There's a recent game out, Cuba, which is supposed to be one step up in complexity from Puerto Rico. I haven't played it yet, but if anyone's enjoying Puerto Rico and wants to step it up, that would be the game I'd recommend. A further step up in complexity, kind of in the same vein, is Caylus, which is great fun but it's 3+ hours and substantially more complicated than the other two.

If you want a game that's good for teaching geography, you want a railroad game or a diplomacy/war game. I'm not much for the latter, but there are a huge variety of great railroad games out there. There's a series of games lovingly called crayon rails, where you draw crayon train tracks on a plastic coated map of some area, trying to link the production centers to the market centers and the like, while avoiding difficult terrain. These can be longish (1-2 hr, sometimes more) but in general don't have combat, so they're suitable for playing with kids or others who don't do well with direct confrontation. There's a crayon rails game for just about any location you could want, including the Moon! The Ticket to Ride series is another series of "light", very accessible train games with versions in North America, Europe, and one or two others.

#46 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 09:09 PM:

Also -- I don't see it mentioned above, but Dvorak is in the canonical list of Nomic-like games as well.

#47 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 10:26 PM:

This is a description of a game that makes me want to be a native player.

#48 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 11:57 PM:

Andy #44 -- I picked up a copy of Race for the Galaxy just a few days after it shipped to US stores. I like it a lot. It's got almost the depth of Puerto Rico, but plays quick like San Juan (and doesn't take ten minutes to set up).

#49 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 12:02 AM:


Seven years and a week ago, I met up with a stranger to play Zendo. We're now engaged.

#50 ::: Nenya ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 04:08 AM:

I am highly amused by the phrase "giant robot miniatures", even though I know exactly what is meant.

#51 ::: keith k. ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 11:02 AM:

I have to agree with those that have already mentioned 1000 blank cards.
When I read the boingboing post, my first thought was that it sounded like 1KBC with too much constraint.
Playing the game of 1000 blank cards with the right groups of creative people have been some of the best gaming experiences of my life. One of the things I enjoy most about it is the way the game changes for different people. I've seen it turn into petty rule-mongering, wherein the goal becomes making the rules so esoteric as to be unplayable. I've seen other groups make it a platform for a bad visual pun contest.

I decided a long time ago that when I have my own design firm, my group initial group interview process will consist of little more than a game of 1000 blank cards. What better way to sort out someone's creativity, artistic skill, and general working personality?

#52 ::: Jeff Grubb ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 02:56 PM:

In the "build-your-own-game" category you should consider Clay-O-Rama, by David "Zeb" Cook, published in DRAGON Magazine in 1987 and since modified, expanded, and tweaked elsewhere. You make your Play-Doh(tm) creature, then determine its abilities based on what you made.

#53 ::: Jeff ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 05:29 PM:

My mother's brain almost melted when confronted with Apples to Apples; I'm not sure what she'd do with this.

I've only played Apples to Apples once, but loved it! (Hint: If you play "X-Rays" against "Chemical Pesticides" for "Artificial" when the judge is an organic farmer, you are going to LOSE! [grin]) Big Idea sounds like great fun. I'll have to get it and try it out.

#54 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 05:37 PM:

Race for the Galaxy is indeed an excellent game. In slight contrast to Avram, I'd say it plays even more quickly than San Juan - once players have a little experience a game should take no more than 20 minutes (your first game will take longer!).

I will still play Puerto Rico since I like the fact that it has more interaction than Race, and less luck. San Juan, I'm not sure I'm going to play again now that Race is out.

#55 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2008, 11:55 PM:

Avram @40: I've been meaning to write up the rules of Egleston for a long time, but I'm not sure how much good a textual description would do without diagrams or photos of a game in progress, and I don't have a scanner or digital camera.

Basically (let's see if this will do any good) you start by dividing all the dominoes evenly among all players, with (ideally) one left over which is turned face up in the middle, as the starter piece. Depending on the size of the domino set and the number of players, you may have a few dominos left out of play as well (in the unlikely event somebody gets to a point where they can't make any legal play, they must draw from those leftovers if such exist).

On each turn, a player can play any domino from their hand that matches any domino in play on either end, in any orthogonal arrangement. (That is, the dominoes must always form a grid, perhaps with gaps in it; no diagonal plays.) If you manage to make a play that matches both ends of your domino with adjacent parts of two dominoes already laid down -- and you can do this either horizontally or vertically -- you get another play. Your turn continues until you are only able to make a play that matches on one end (or, very rarely, until you can't make any plays). The winner is the first person to get rid of all their dominoes.

We have various alternate rules about how one's hand is managed: all dominoes face up at the start, or about half face down and half face up, with each player drawing from their personal boneyard at the end of each turn so they have a constant number face-up.

The strategy lies in (a) spotting opportunities for double plays, (b) spotting ways to create opportunities for you to make double plays in a later turn, (c) figuring out when other players are working on making opportunities for future doubles, and blocking them, (d) when you have no way to create a chance for double play for yourself, trying to at least avoid creating such opportunities for other players. (There's no way to block a vertical double, but any number of ways to block most horizontal doubles that other players might be planning -- or accidentally give them such opportunities while trying to create them for yourself.)

There's a variant my four-year-old cousin suggested, which I've never found anybody else willing to use: ALL of your dominoes start out face down. Each turn you get to pick one up and look at it; if you can't play it, put it back face-down and try to remember what it was and where you put it, for future reference...

#56 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2008, 06:26 AM:

My husband plays Warmachine, which is a miniatures war game involving giant robots. And zombies. And witches. And stuff. (I don't play. Miniatures do nothing for me. He not only plays, but flashes/primers/pins/epoxies/paints the miniatures. Anyway...) One day, he and I got into a fairly deep semantic discussion about the difference between "giant miniature robots" and "miniature giant robots." Both of us agreed the terms were distinct, but I'm not sure we had the same instinctive idea of their meanings.

I love Chrononauts. It's historical, it's strategic, it involves nearly as many cards as Mah Jjong does tiles, and on top of that, its alternate histories make wistful. I mean, just you try patching the "Lennon assassinated" paradox and not getting a bit of "Ah, if only" when you watch the ripples go forward, wiping out the Columbine Massacre and the Challenger disaster and replacing them sweetness and light. (I tend to view the Challenger disaster as the defining tragedy of my generation's childhood; the rest of my classmates may disagree. The idea of its launch being halted by a peace rally hits me about the same place that Tufte's lecture about how the engineers failed through bad data presentation to convincingly make a case to halt said launch does.)

#57 ::: Gary Denton ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2008, 03:02 PM:

There are other great board and card games. Also check out the top 20 or so at or patronize a local boardgame club. Most colleges have them.

Right now I am fond of 1960: The Making of a President, Fluxx, Puerto Rico, Imperial, Ra, Power Grid, and some railroad-type games. I did play Family Flux the other day which has the advantage of being suitable for all ages.

#58 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2008, 10:21 AM:

Nicole @ #55: a fairly deep semantic discussion about the difference between "giant miniature robots" and "miniature giant robots."

Myself, I see the adjective closest to the noun as being the most fundamental: thus, a "giant miniature robot" is a "(giant (miniature robot))" is a miniature robot that is larger than usual, while a "miniature giant robot" is a "(miniature (giant robot))" is a giant robot that is smaller than usual.

#59 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2008, 10:35 AM:

A miniature robot is a robot meant for playing miniature games with-- I'm envisioning a robot with an army-guy base, really. Make one of those big, and you have a giant miniature robot. A miniature giant robot is a robot with an army-guy base and little teeny houses by its feet, showing scale.

#60 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2008, 11:02 PM:

I'll be bringing several games to Boskone including Race for the Galaxy, both editions of Chrononauts, Fluxx, Wizard, No Thanks!, and Bohnanza. I'd be very happy to play any of them with fellow Fluorospherians.

#61 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2008, 02:15 PM:

I am fascinated by Dragon Dice at the moment, and really must get my friends over to play sometime soon....

#62 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2008, 03:32 PM:

I'm faintly boggled that Cory is just now discovering Fluxx - Hal Haag was carting around boxes of decks at Balticon and Philcon back in the mid- to late 1990. (I still have my original black & white deck too.) Ever so often I toy with making a version of Fluxx centered around choreographing early 19th century country dances. (I'd look into using Volity for this, but it seems to require actual programming ability. Fooey.)

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.