Category Archives: Proposal/Game Idea

Here be DRAGONS! Or rather, half thought through game ideas that LIKE dragons won’t leave me alone until I slay them, or at least partially describe them for the benefit of being able to sleep

Cluthulhu – A #OneGameAMonth game

Cluthulhu is a game for 2-7 players that uses an existing Cluedo board with some extra counters. Players have to escape from an unknown horror that has infected their country mansion. Think “The Blob” meets “The Thing” at Cthuhlu Manor

Cluthulhu requires:
1) A copy of Cluedo (or Clue, if you are from the Colonies), but you won’t be solving a murder, but fighting for your very lives! All the existing pieces of the game will be used. If you have the deluxe version of the game, with extra weapons or player characters that’s fine, but I will be assuming you have the more commonly available basic set.
2) A good few dozen green counters, cubes or meeples, small enough to fit on each square of the board; technically the board is 24×24 squares, but rooms are not divided up in an unmodified board. Ideally, twelve counters per player should be sufficient, but you can probably work with 6-8 per player.
3) An extra die as 2D6 are required; technically 1D6-1D6 to be exact, giving a range of movement from 0-5; the lower die is subtracted from the higher.
4) (Optional) A thin permanent marker and a ruler or straight edge.

Instructions for modification of the basic game.
The first thing to do is decide if you don’t mind changing your board; this won’t prevent you from playing the original game. While this isn’t strictly necessary, it will enhance the playing experience greatly by allowing for player movement inside rooms to be fairer. In the original Cluedo game, movement inside rooms is rather like teleportation, with the entire room space being a single move (which is daft really). If you are happy writing on your board, you should use a ruler to extend the existing lines for the corridor squares carefully across into the room spaces. I personally wouldn’t draw over the walls. However, using a thin permanent marker will allow rooms to be broken into squares, just like the hallways. Remember, although it’s recommended to use a permanent marker, if you mess up you can probably clean up any flaws with solvent, provided you have not pressed too hard and make corrections quickly. Making these changes does not ‘break’ the original Cluedo game, provided that players remember that movement costs are not relevant for room spaces, even though this is weird; this might explain the location of doors in Cluedo rooms, which otherwise makes little sense. If you don’t want to mark the board, then so long as the alien (yes, Alien!) jumps across rooms from door to door as well, we’re all good. No further physical modification is necessary.
Modified Cluep Board
Modified Cluthulhu Board
Set up for Cluthulhu
Firstly, sort the weapon, location and people cards into separate piles. Shuffle each pile and deal out face down in a line the weapon cards, then deal on top of them enough of the location cards to give each a location. These pairs are then turned over to determine which random weapon is in which random location. Place the relevant counter/marker for each weapon in the relevant room. Then take back the location card and shuffle the full deck again. Deal out all the player character cards and, again, lay out locations on each. This will randomly locate all the player counters (Col. Mustard for example). All player counters are to be used, no matter how many players are taking part; human players will play any and all the characters anyway. Finally, take one of the unused location cards at random. (Alternatively, allow the player playing the Alien (Yes, Alien!) to choose from an unoccupied room; this option should not include rooms with weapons.) This is where the Alien (Yes, Alien!) will start spawning. Place one counter anywhere in the room. Finally, the Alien (Yes, Alien!) secretly chooses one of the player character cards. This will be the secretly infected human. If they escape successfully, then Humanity is DOOOoooMED! Initial Alien Spawning
Beginning in the ro

HexStatic – A #1GAM #onegameamonth tile laying strategy game for 1-3 players

HexStatic is a tile-laying puzzle strategy game of Red Green and Blue. Players attempt to make loops and lines by selectively laying tiles to form their own structures while blocking those of the other players. But first you need to fight for the right to own a colour in the first place! Will you rush in early, or play a waiting game of blocking?

What you will need?
Scissors (optional), a Printer, paper and/or thin card, or blank Hex tiles.

Print out the PDF file (link below) and paste on to thin card, or use red, green and blue pens (or colours of your own choice) to create your own pieces using purchased blank hex tiles.

How to play with 2 or 3 players
All the tiles except the nexus tiles (tiles where all three colours are end points) are turned over and shuffled.
[Insert picture of Nexus tiles]

Players select 6 tiles randomly, which they can look at but must keep secret from the other . Then the starting player chooses one of the nexus tiles to play first, and the rest are shuffled among the remaining face down tiles. Who gets to be starting player? The last winner of the game, or you can choose randomly. This ends the starting player’s first turn.

Then play commences in a clockwise direction. Each turn, players choose one of their six tiles to lay, where lines of the same colour always line up on all connected sides. Once played, a replacement tile is randomly chosen from the remaining face down tiles. If a tile could not be played, or the player chooses not to lay a tile, one tile is discarded for a random replacement then the remaining face down tiles are shuffled.

When the first structure is completed, either by having a line finished with two end tiles or by creating a self-contained loop, the successful player is assigned that colour for the rest of the game. Similarly for the second player to complete a structure. In a 3 player game, the remaining colour is allocated to the final player. In a two player game the last colour counts as neutral.

Play continues until no more players are able to lay legal tiles. If all players agree, play can be suspended and remaining tiles turned over to confirm no legal moves remain. If there are tiles that can be laid, play continues in the same order, but with all tiles being available to each player in turn order until legal moves are exhausted.

Scoring can be done continuously during play or at the end of the game, as follows:

  1. Loops – count the number of tiles in a loop when completed and multiply by 4. So, a loop of 3 (the smallest possible) scores 12 points.
  2. Lines – count the number of tiles including the two end tiles when a line is completed, and multiply by 2. So, a completed line can be as short as 2 (only two end tiles), which would score 4, but could be significantly longer!
  3. Fragments – lines that have one end tile only are scored by counting the number of connected tiles, excluding the end tile. This should only happen at the end of the game.
  4. Connected tiles – Fragments that don’t have at least one end tile are NOT counted unless there is a tie with scoring for Loops, Lines and Fragments. This should only happen if there is a draw at the end of the game.

How to play a Single Player Game
Set up is the same as for multiplayer, in that 6 tiles are chosen randomly from shuffled face down tiles, excluding the nexus tiles (those consisting solely of line ends), a nexus tile is chosen and played, with the rest being shuffled into the remaining tiles.

Then play proceeds with laying a tile then taking another (or swapping a new tile for an old one and shuffling) until there are no more legal moves possible; confirmation of this may require all remaining tiles being turned over, at which point but the player has effectively given up placing any more tiles and scoring begins.

Scoring for single player games is the same as for multiplayer games, but all colours are counted and only loops and lines score. The aim of single player is to get a new high score, or beat other player’s best scores.

For a commercial version of this, I would imagine pieces similar to those for Hive; chunky hexagonal tiles with raised grooves. Ideally, I would have coloured lines of different types – dashed, thin and thick lines – to allow colourblind or visually impaired players to have an accessible version. If you’d like to publish this game, please contact me, provided you agree that this Print and Play version is allowed to remain in the Public Domain indefinitely.

Print and Play Files
To come later today. Apologies, I can’t get a decent upload connection right now.

Pixeliction – A #1GAM #onegameamonth quick game for Artists and Retro Fans

This is a quick “gamers’ game” especially for retro fans and artists. Pixeliction is Pixel art version of Pictionary. If you don’t have that game, or got tired and gave it away, don’t worry: it’s usually available very cheaply at charity/thrift shops or you can use this online Pictionary Word Generator to get the words.
What do I need?
A copy of Pictionary, the word generator linked above, or paper and pens and (possibly) a dictionary.
An Othello/Reversi board
How to play
Simple, instead of drawing to give clues to the word, you use black and white counters or a blank space to build an 8×8 pixel image on the board. Pixel art is dying, and this game is a way to reinvigorate the form, as well as to give players an appreciation of how hard it is to create sprites.
You could use coloured counters to allow more colours, or go for 16×16 grids, but this will mean it will take longer to create an image; patience needed.

Kipling, the Seemingly Saying Something Game – #1GAM Entry for @Boardroomers

The @Boardroomers February Game Design Competition deadline is TODAY! Here is my entryKipling the Seemingly Saying Something Game, which will also be my first February entry for #1GAM; I originally developed three @Boardroomers games, but (understandably) they decided to only allow one submission per designer. The other two games:

  1. Aversion – a 3 player card game of Find the Killer/Counsellor/Suicide in a fast Rock Paper Scissors game of Secrets, Intervention and Group Therapy) and
  2. Elementary – A 2 player puzzle card game where you find out which of cards 1-10 the other player has by getting answers for 2-4 of 9 left (e.g. >?, same colour, odd, etc.)

will be posted later this month.

Two #1GAM board games – “Mynd” and “Get thee behind me…”

You can now play GTBM online at Taebl but you will need a copy of the GTBM.taebl file. Note this needs Silverlight, and humans will need to moderate the rules.

My first submission (actually two!) for #1GAM
I intend to computerise the games at some point, but haven’t locked down a decent A.I. algorithm yet, good enough for solo play/learning. You will need a checkers/draughts/chess/othello/reversi board and pieces for “Get thee behind me…” (or GTBM for short), and a GO board or one of The Viking Game variants for “Mynd”. Coloured counters and a drawn paper board will also work; I got 1000 tiddlywinks in 5 colours for £6 off eBay from SuppliesForAll.

“Get thee behind me…”
Credit is due to former games students, Matt and Dave, for inspiring this mechanic several years ago.

GTBM rules
Each player starts with 8 pieces (white or black) on the nearest row of an 8×8 square board. (Optionally, 16 pieces of each colour on a 16×16 sized board is possible.) Black starts.

GTBM Starting set up

Pieces can be moved diagonally forward left or right or straight back.

The bottom left Black piece cannot move forward right or to the rear.

If a diagonal move gets a piece behind an opponent’s piece – i.e. between the piece and its owner – that piece is removed. Taking is not allowed when moving straight backwards (no backstabbing!).
Blue take is legal, but Red isn’t because that piece was not moving from the side.

The game ends when a player cannot make a legal move; if the other player can move they win, but if there is no legitimate move it is a draw. Alternatively, if all a player’s pieces are captured, and the opponent still has a legal move afterwards, then this too is a victory.

One obvious strategy is to build columns of pieces, as these cannot be taken easily. However, the “two steps forward, one back” philosophy may be useful. Below is an example of attrition, where Black is almost certainly going to lose a piece, because White has a partial vertical line protecting the threatened piece.

GTBM-legal and illegal-takes
Black cannot take, but White can

Nothing can prevent Black from being taken, but there is an option to enact tit-for-tat

Defensive play to ensure take and retake

Swap of pieces complete

Please leave feedback on GTBM in the comments below, or over at

Get thee behind me… and Mynd (part 1)

“Get thee behind me…” and “Mynd” (part 1 above) and “Mynd” (part 2 below) – notes from my #1GAM project book

Mynd (part 2)


This was an attempt at making a “classic abstract” game using a existing board and pieces (in this case, GO and, for the record, “mynd” is Welsh for “go”), rather like Arimaa did with Chess. Also fortuitous was picking up a super cheap, mint copy of Pegity in a charity shop yesterday for £3, which gave me some lovely wooden peg pieces (~200 in four colours 🙂 with a cheap thin card board 🙁 but nothing’s perfect). So, my plan to use Tiddlywinks and a GO board was not needed. Of note, however, is the 16×16 board, rather than 19×19, which is more akin to The Viking Game that has 8×8, 11×11 and larger variants. Basically, the larger the board, the longer and more complex the game, so 11×11 will be best suited to learning the basic tactics, but 16×16 or 19×19 will offer more opportunities. The number of required counters of each colour will depend on the size of the board, but a rule of thumb would be the total number of all the coloured counters should be about two thirds the size of the board – 20 for each player for 11×11, 43 for 16×16, 60 for 19×19. NOTE: These may need adjusting after playtesting. GO has 181 black and 180 White counters, which is sufficient to cover the whole board, even though it is unlikely that players would do so.

Mynd rules

Depending on whether 2, 3 or 4 players are playing, each player starts with one coloured peg in the corner (or, for one of 3 players, the opposite edge) of the board (see sketch above). After that play consists of one of four actions:

  1. (optional) Placing a piece in any available space – freeform movement called “sowing a seed”
  2. Placing a piece in any free space (including diagonally) next to an existing piece of the same colour, provided that it has an empty space next to it in an adjacent row, column or diagonal – called “growing the twig” or if this dissects an existing diagonal connection of the opponent’s colour it is called “cutting the bark”
  3. Pushing a continuous row or column of pieces by one space, provided that the total number of your pieces outnumbers those of the opponent – this is called “extending the branch”
  4. Placing or pushing pieces such that an area contained by a continuous line of pieces (and/or the edges of the board) is captured, which includes the first corner piece at the start of the game, or in a self-contained cell in the interior of the board – this is called “forming the trunk”

The first case allows players to use pieces to grow into new territory or reduce the final score for opponents. The second case is for growing or adding to the defence of their boundary markers, but also allows for a single piece to be slid along a row or column. In the third case, pushing the pieces along a row may upset the balance of connected columns. However, a row/column may not be pushed in a direction where a piece would be pushed off the board; so edges and corners are particularly useful. Finally, the fourth case is for scoring, the area contained by counting unoccupied spaces inside a completed boundary, excluding pieces of other players, will contribute to the final score.

Play continues until players agree there are no moves left that do not result in a cycle of play that results in a board position being repeated. Alternatively, play can stop upon agreement by the players. Then the unoccupied area of each player is calculated. Areas surrounded by one player’s counters, if subsequently surrounded by those of another, will not count towards either player scores.

Please leave feedback on Mynd in the comments below, or over at


This is definitely one of those games where the name directed the mechanic. The concept of karma – good and bad, owing or being owed a debt, and both being a responsibility – and a meta game element of card destruction (making every deck unique) and Real World ™ consequences (in the form of a verbal contract to play) sort of came after the pun of Karma and Armageddon.

Strangely, the term has little prior use; mostly when I come up with a cool word I find “it’s been done already”. Great minds think alike, normally, and it’s hard to come up with something truly unique. Hence, I disclose the following existing references to karmageddon:

Hank Williams song, Karmageddon
The Urban Dictionary definition of Karmageddon:
Karmageddon: The Movie

I’ve been bouncing this particular idea around for a few weeks, with a vague notion it should involve Playing Cards; ideally ones that people don’t mind destroying a bit. Those horrible cheap “hobbit” cards you get in Christmas Crackers would be ideal, as ripping and writing on these is no real loss. However, no doubt at some point I’ll do an IndieGoGo/KickStarter for official decks, like Play Test: Legacies did (Sorry I missed THAT one!).

The most important part of this game concept is that players may “help” you, even when you don’t want it, and that this will exact a real consequence to clear the debt. Of course, like a gambling debt, this isn’t enforceable. However, entering into the spirit of the thing is the whole point. Why cheat? You’re only robbing yourself…

Set up
There are two elements to this game:

    A card game played with (what starts out at least as) a standard deck of cards. If there are Jokers, bridge rules or instruction cards, include them.
    Redemption of Debt where cards used to help other players are IOUs for an hour of a player’s time on any reasonable, legal and responsible task.

To play (the first time) a Sharpie or permanent marker and a standard deck of cards (with jokers) is necessary for 2-4 players. For more than 4 players an extra deck of cards is added for each additional player up to 8 maximum; ideally this should have a different back design or be different size to allow separation for future 2-4 player games. These cards will be torn, ripped and marked, so will likely not be useful for other games afterwards.

NOTE: a deck where cards are missing (otherwise useless!) is fine as a starting deck. Subsequent play will likely not have all the cards anyway, so one or two missing now won’t matter. Reuse/Recycling!!! I feel better already!

Set up for the Meta-Game (the redemption of favours) is merely the agreement of all players that they will commit to an hour of time helping one another for each “Debt Card” they end up with. Where this occurs in game, the card will be ripped in two and both parts signed by helper and helpee; its recommended that a phone number or email address for each is also written down, unless players are well acquainted. The helpee then uses their half in play (for that game only) and later as a reminder that they owe a favour. The helper keeps their half to call in the debt.

NOTE: The hour of time and the task are to be mutually agreed between helper and helpee. It could be anything crom mowing a lawn, babysitting, fixing a computer, whatever is acceptable and doable.

NOTE 2: Debts do NOT cancel out. If Mike owes Paco a debt and vice versa, they don’t call it quits. They both do an hour for the other. This is a matter of honour!

Once a debt is paid, “Done” is written on the helpers half and “Paid” is written on the helpees half. Cards can be kept as a memento, burned ceremoniously or binned.

Game play
The deck is shuffled (half cards are not to be kept from previous games). Players cut for who should go first, lowest first – Aces low – then the deck reshuffled. Play will simply consist of turning over cards until a task is achieved, when the player will keep those cards, or the task fails and the cards are returned to the bottom of the deck; there is no discard. Play then passes to the next player (in the order determined by the previous draw).

NOTE: over time decks may be added of a variety of different sizes. One option is to put them all in a box with a hand sized opening and have cards pulled out without looking, like drawing a raffle ticket.

Before turning over any cards each player states whether they are aiming for 1 to N cards to complete a task, where N is the greater of number of players or 4. Players may NOT choose a number for which they currently already have a successful trick displayed in front of them. Then cards are turned over up to a maximum of the determined number. If ALL of these cards are Ace-Ten (i.e. Not court cards, Jack, Queen, King) then the task is successfully completed, the set of cards is displayed in front of the player, and play passes to the next. If a court card is turned over before N normal cards, the task is “at risk”. If the court card was the first card, play continues as normal, except that the player is now attempting to get a full set of court cards to achieve the task. If a normal card (i.e. Ace-Ten) then appears before completion, again the task is “at risk”.

NOTE: if a Joker or other non-playable card is turned over, the current player should mark its face (not back) as either Normal or Court. This will be a permanent change. These cards can never be used or exchanged in “at risk” situations. If they come up again at the wrong time the task automatically fails.
At this stage, any other player can agree to substitute the offending card for one that would allow the task to be completed. Where only one offer of help is made, the player MUST accept. If more than one offers, the player can choose who helps them.

NOTE: this help can only come when another player already has cards laid in front of them from earlier successful tasks.

Once help is agreed, the “at risk” card is placed in front of the person offering help and one of their cards (normal or court, depending) is placed in front of the current player. Then the task continues. If successful – N normal or court cards are turned over – the swapped card is ripped, signed and half used with the rest of the cards for that task and displayed in front of the player. The other “at risk” card is added to the helper’s hand in any legal way (see later).

If the task is put “at risk” again by the wrong type of card showing up, another opportunity for help is available. if no offers of help are forthcoming, all the cards are returned to the bottom of the deck. This includes ones placed in front of helpers and helpees; they’ve lost a card to you for no gain by either party.

When a helper receives a card from the current player, if and only if the task is successful, they can add their new card to a current trick, or make a new single card trick. However, there should never be two tricks of the same size (court or normal). Tricks of greater than N in size are allowed, and will count as N for end game purposes, but can only be constructed through helping others; these can act as banks for future help, but do not count for more than N for victory point purposes.

NOTE: There can still only be one trick of N or greater size!

Play continues until a player has tricks of 1 to N (1,2,3,4, etc) of either normal or court cards; this is the Good Karma ending. Removing a card to help another player may not leave a player with two tricks of the same size. Alternatively, play ends when there is in front of any player tricks 1 to N of court cards; this is the Bad Karma ending.

Victory points are allocated on the basis of total index cards – total court cards in a player’s hand. If (IF!) a player has tricks 1 to N of court cards only these count as positives. N Wrongs DO make a Right! These are purely for fun, to encourage strategic play. The biggest victory is in being owed or owing no debt. If this is the case, a player’s victory points are doubled. Of course, the most important victory is honourably redeeming debts owed.


Final NOTE: After a few times playing, the deck is likely to start getting a “bit thin” when that happens, add a single suit – Ace-King – from another incomplete or hated cheap deck. There should always be a minimum of 10 cards per player, with an approximate ratio of 10:3 normal to court cards.

Final FINAL NOTE: If you think this SHOUKD be KickStarted, comment here. I have ideas for expansions 🙂


BANCE! is, according to @tableflipsyou:
‘It is a Victory word…like “Bingo!” or “Huzzah!” or “Yahtzee!”‘!/tableflipsyou/status/249316385287729152

It was coined by @Jared_Hunnefeld while playing “Lingo,” in which players need to figure out five letter words based on limited clues. Jared was presented with “B_NC_” The word was “BENCH,”but because the game is timed and you only have a few seconds to guess, he hastily wrote down “BANCE.”
Flip the Table Podcast Ep #4

@tableflipsyou says ‘The rest is Flip the Table History.’!/tableflipsyou/status/249315810571587584

The challenge
Flip the Table regularly disparage roll-and-play and press-your-luck games, but @tableflipsyou actually likes Monopoly! We’ve had something of a feud going on Twitter (search for #MonopolyWar)

So, I agreed to make the game that BANCE! (I’ve added the “!” to distinguish the game from the word) so clearly deserves; all the worst bits of bad games:
1) roll and play
2) press-your-luck
3) Monopoly
The Game
Take a Monopoly board, playing pieces, and $200 currency per player (see special rule regarding denomination).

The aim of the game is to land exactly back on the Start or GO square with exactly $200.

Order of Play
Order of play is determined by a bidding phase: whoever bids highest pays this fee to the next highest, who pays their bid to the next and so on down to the lowest. For help in transactions, see Being a Git!

Roll and Move
Each player chooses between 1, 2, 3 or 5 dice; never 4… no… never 4! Not after last time. Ideally there should be at least 2 different colours, and 3 of one and two of the other for completeness.

Dice combinations, chosen IN ADVANCE PLEASE are as follows:
1) this simply represents 1-6 (N00b!)
2a) this represents 2 numbers added, 2-12
2b) player can choose to subtract 1 die from the other, -5 (backwards) to 5 inc 0 (no movement) for doubles.
3) 2 dice of one colour represent numbers, the 3rd represents + (1,2), – (3,4), or x (5,6) [x is multiply!] player chooses order (i.e. 5-6 or 6-5), -5 to 36
5) Same as 3 but must be arranged [num][+/-/x][num][+/-/x][num], -10 to 216! If using a calculator (wimp!) press = (equals) after the second to get the “correct” answer.

Are you still with me here? There WILL be a test!

Once you have your number of moves, count out that number; if a player gets 6x6x6 just ignore them, pretend they aren’t there until they’ve finished, and carry on playing as if they weren’t there; you, discerning player that you are, never wanted them here anyway. This ignoring includes bidding phase for future turns.

If you land on another player’s piece at the end of your move, the first player in that square to shout “BANCE!” (including the “!”) gets to take half of the other’s money, rounded down, to the nearest number of notes they are actually holding. For example, Flip holds a $10 and a $20 (he’s losing as usual), and Jared lands and BANCE!s him. He should take $15 (half of $30), but only gets $10 because Flip never buys a round.

If you are landed on and say “BANCE!” before the moving player, you are a “Bloody sod!” Either way, winning could be a good/bad thing…

Play continues in bidding order from highest to lowest. If no one has died/given up/won then a new bidding phase begins, and play continues. Rinse. Repeat.

The currency in Monopoly, aka Monopoly Money is one of the worst parts, notably because it often triggers the worst joke in board gaming. If you don’t know of this horribly obvious attempt at humour, I envy you. But actually you DO know it. We’ve all thought it, even if we haven’t said it. Now you’ll curse me for reminding you…

Each player’s $200 should be distributed as follows:

Player 1: 12x $5 bills and 40x $1 bills
Player 2: 20x $10 bills
Player 3: 10x $20 bills
Player 4: 4x $50 bills
Player 5: 2x $100 bills

All the other “spare” money should be burnt in creative ways:

It will become clear that some players will have more change than others. How do you decide who gets to be player 1? Well, remember that bidding phase… yup, you have to bid to get it. Highest gets to be player 1, and receives that money, but must then pass on their bid to Player 2, and so on..

Being a git
NOTE: at any time it might be necessary to negotiate change with whoever has it – need to pay $3 but only have a $50… oh dear! – and this is allowed at any time. However, players are not obligated to swap currency, and can charge what they like for the service of providing change. No player is under any obligation though, and can attempt to issue IOUs in lieu of payment; these can be bought and sold and used in payment.

For this, I’d suggest using those spare notes (with a line drawn through the printed side to prevent “confusion”), as writing on the back is the most use they’ll get any… What’s that? You set them on fire! Put them out now!

Oh, well I guess you could always use the banks of Chance and Community Chest cards. Throw the Mortgage Deed cards on that nice fire you stamped out earlier. Didn’t you KNOW Property is Theft! …Bastard!

And there you have it, BANCE!
I thoroughly expect no one to ever play this game. However, if you do it will have saved you from using the board to play Monopoly at least!


P.A.C.O. (Push Avoid Combat Oppose) – A G*M*S Magazine Board Game

The initial challenge came from idle discussion with Paco, host of the G*M*S Magazine podcast, where we talked about rapid prototyping. I suggested that it should be possible to design a game during the podcast, so firstly, I decided to do something while listening to the latest RPG special. This was actually a two part podcast, but the actual time involved was about 17 minutes in total; not bragging, but I regularly set 15 minute game design challenges for my students, which means I was technically 2 minutes over. Of course, some build up and preparation occurred.
Secondly, I always raid local charity shops for games, analogue and digital; the former often being real bargains or at least cheap items for prototyping. Just this week I found a £2 copy of Waddingtons reprint of Scoop, a favourite game of my childhood that I enjoyed as a child, mostly for reading the silly little stories and the simplistic graphic design when ‘constructing’ my newspaper. Last weekend, I also picked up a whole load of other games for less than £10, including a nice, if incomplete version of Othello/Reversi, with 63 (rather than the necessary 64) reversible tokens. One token being missing was probably the reason the game was for sale, but the lack of a piece was a major inspiration for P.A.C.O. in fact. Something about seeing black and white pieces, like pixels in fact, and ‘holes’, gaps on the board seemed quite compelling; the idea of designing a game that wouldn’t be damaged by loss of pieces, and reuse/recycling an existing game, really appealed.
Looking back now, although a draughts/checkers/chess board and pieces could just as easily be substituted, laying all the two sided counters out – easier than just counting them as it allowed me to play pixel art maker – the idea of different types of piece and holes (i.e. lack of pieces) also reminded me of something else…
A few weeks before, I had seen a final year group project, called Tamoanchan, from 2012 graduating students at my own University a few weeks ago: (NOTE: The ‘l’ is a lower case L.)
This game involves lifting and pushing blocks, leaving holes. So, the mechanic fitted with the idea of reusing the board and pieces. However, the challenge then was to see if a board game could be made that was inspired by Tamoanchan, which was simple to play AND fun.

“Inspired by”
I hadn’t originally planned a demake of Tamoanchan – aka ‘dmake’, a term usually applied to retro remakes of modern video games like the amazing Atari 2600 version of Halo:
However, “inspired by” seems appropriate and due credit needs to be given, because Tamoanchan was an influence, although converting a real-time video game into a board game would not be trivial. For example, the video game form is real-time, with major environmental housekeeping and physics simulation, as well as character design and narrative in the art assets; an excellent example is the player avatar animation in the video, where a character watches a block slide past; something that shows the distinction between analogue and digital. Such a bit of polish isn’t needed or possible in a board game. Similarly, player movement in a videogame, using gamepads, buttons, etc, is a different experience to a turn-based board game, which does not have the luxury of automated rule enforcement. I should know after all, I did convert Lunar Lander to board game form once:
This leads to an interesting discussion, namely that of when is analogue remaking, paraphrasing of game content, or wholesale reuse (stealing?) of a mechanic, an acceptable thing to do. There are many examples of games taking a successful idea and evolving it; Dominion ‘deck building’ clone anyone? However, as an academic I need to confess that, after the while, it was clear that P.A.C.O. had, in retrospect, lifted the base mechanical elements of Tamoanchan; specifically, lifting and pushing blocks, and moving round a diminishing board space. It wasn’t planned, but clearly my appreciation for the student project and starting with wanting to make use of an incomplete Othello game converged into the final idea. So, while not completely original – an analogue version of a digital game in development – but hopefully sufficiently unique to be worthwhile. I am hopeful Tamoanchan will see commercial release soon, and worth keeping an eye on.

Game Setup
You need 64 (or less) two sided counters, with different colours on each side, or alternatively two sets of 64 (or less) differently coloured counters, an 8×8 board with cells big enough to hold a counter, and 2-6 figures that have a clear forward direction to represent players, which must fit in a cell of the board (Skylanders work well for large boards, but 35mill figures are fine), 1 or 2 D6 dice for random start locations, pen and paper for each player to write moves out. Board setup is to fill the edge cells with white counters, which leaves a 6×6 grid of currently empty cells, which should be filled with black counters. If you have less than 64 counters, you’ll be left with one or more empty cells. To choose which row/column should be empty, roll a die for row, then again for column and make that the empty cell. [Optionally, the minimum number of empty cells should be no.players-1]. Finally, place the player pieces in the same way, rerolling if a player is placed on or adjacent to holes.

P.A.C.O. example start position
Fig.1 – Example starting board state, showing starting counters, holes at (3,1), (1,4) and (6,5) and players at (2,2), (5,2), (1,6) and (4,5)

Basic concepts
Black pieces represent blocks that can be walked on. White represents blocks that have been raised up and may not be walked on; our characters have Chronic Jumping Syndrome (CJS) that is very common, like Diagonalitis (the inability to walk except along rows or columns). Empty cells (cells with no counters) represent holes. Holes are things you can fall down. So, at the starting point we should have 2+ characters and 1+ holes in a 6×6 grid, surrounded by a wall of blocks.
Players have six options to move each turn:
1) Turn left – figures rotate 90 degrees counter-clockwise from current direction to face either North, South, East or West
2) Turn right – as above, but clockwise
3) Move forward – this must be to a black counter.
4) Jump forward – this must be to a hole (empty cell) and followed the subsequent turn by a Move Forward command. Not doing this will result in falling down!
5) Lift block – the block (black counter) immediately in front of the players is flipped to or replaced with White.
6) Push block – the raised block (white counter) immediately in front of the player is shoved forwards. See pushed block rules.

All players write down their next move; players choosing jump write down the next two moves. When all are finished, moves are declared and implemented. In the following order of priority: rotates, moves, jumps, lifts, pushes. Therefore, if one player lifts a block, it will be available for an adjacent player to push, if that is what was ordered. This allows collaborative, reactive and competitive play, and negotiation as to what to do next is definitely encouraged. However, so is outright lying about what you are going to do next as every point counts and in the end the number of points, kills and deaths will be significant. Play continues until no more legal moves are possible, or by agreement of all the players.

Dealing with conflicting orders
If a player attempts to move into an occupied cell, the move fails. If two players try to move into the same square, roll 1D6 for each of them, the higher one wins and the other fails to move; if an equal roll is thrown, neither move. If a player chooses to jump, then on the second turn there is no black cell to land in, either because there is a hole now or a lifted block or another player, then the jump fails and the player falls down the hole. If a jumper will land on a square that another player has been ordered in to, the same die roll applies as for two players trying to move into the same cell. If a player tries to lift a block when another has given the order to move or jump into that space or it is already occupied, the lift fails, because the move takes precedent. If two players order the same block to be lifted, the action succeeds. However, if two players both try to push the block it fails, by effectively cancelling each other out. If a player is involved in lifting a block and another gives an order that would push it onto the lifting player, the push fails, again by being effectively countered.

Push Block Rules
When a block is pushed, unless the push fails (see above), all previous orders should have been implemented and player pieces moved to the relevant cell. When a block is pushed, it will move in the row or column the player piece was pointing, and will move until it hits another white block or escapes off the edge of the board. If a pushed block meets another white block, it will stop next to it; if there is a hole in this space it will fall down and seal the hole (i.e. become black again) [Optionally, it could fall through]. The hit block then carries on in the direction the original pushed block was going. If it collides, the same rule applies, etc, until a block is removed from the board. If a block hits a player, the player piece is pushed in front of the pushed block as it moves. If the player is pushed into a white block, the player is ‘stunned’ and loses the next turn, while the stopping block moves off in the direction of the initial push; if the player is above a hole when stunned the piece falls through. If a player piece is pushed and does not meet an obstacle, the piece is pushed off the board.

When a player piece is stunned, falls through a hole because of a failed jump, or is pushed off the board, the player loses a point. NOTE: a player that falls through a hole because they were stunned will lose 2 points, one for being stunned and one for falling. If the player wishes to be placed back on the board – see respawning rules – the player will lose an additional point. If a player causes another player to be stunned, fall or be pushed off the board, they gain a point. Again, as per the stunned and fallen player, who loses 2 points, a player that causes this to happen will gain 2 points. At the end of a turn, any players remaining on the board (and not stunned) will gain a point. The final winner is determined by how many points they have: the one with the most positive points (or least negative points!) when players agree to stop, or there are no more legal moves, is the winner.

Respawning rules
As per the original placement rules, 2D6 are used to determine the new starting position for respawning players. However, unlike the beginning set up of the game, where if an illegal position is chosen the dice are re-rolled, when players are respawning this does not apply. If the player would have been placed on another player or a white block the respawn fails, but the player does not lose the point. If the player would have been placed on a hole, the player fails to respawn and the player loses a point. Players are free to try to respawn on the following turn, after other players have executed their orders, and having no positive points is not a problem, as players just go into the negative, hopefully to be able to earn points in future turns.

Reality is Borken* – How do we avoid the ‘Workification’ of Game Programming

For whatever reason, I was thinking of the Matrix just now**, and it hit me: All this talk of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and encouraging programming in schools was an embodiment of the needs of the parents/Government/IT Sector and not really that of the children. In the Matrix, Neo (and other escapees from a manufactured delusion) fight a system that wants them put in a pod, unwittingly contributing to a global economy – as batteries in the film, but you get what I mean – where even the illusion of personal choice is manufactured.

We need coders, lots of coders

Ian Livingstone OBE, life president of Eidos and recent recipient of a well deserved Develop Award for a lifetime achievement in Games, as well as some other guy (!) published the Livingstone-Hope Review eight months ago, which has been covered in great detail

Progress from this has been ‘slow’ if his recent presentation at the Develop Conference in Brighton in July is anything to go by, despite Michael Gove, UK Education Secretary, recently declaring that Games offer “huge potential for maths and science teaching”

Livingstone-Hope declared:

“Computer science must be part of the school national curriculum. The current curriculum includes ICT, but the authors of the report argue that ICT, with its focus on every day applications such as word processing, does not teach the valuable computer programming knowledge that is vital to high-tech industries such as videogames and visual effects.”


“Young people must be given more opportunity to study art and technology together.”

but both of these rely on what my tutor at Leeds, Dan McDade***, used to call a “utopian indicative”: if more children are exposed to ‘proper’ Computer Science in schools there will be a sudden and impressive flood of kids wanting to go into IT careers. It might be right. Might.

…it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself

The imposed homogeneity of a National Curriculum has been with us a long time – I decided to leave school teaching as a result of this and other silliness in the late 80s – but, sadly, there is no waking up from this particular rabbit hole. Even in universities, where you might assume because students have elected to be there, institutional pragmatism as well as ‘customer’ expectations dictate a passive sameness in Higher Education; this will only get worse as HE is increasingly commercialised. Students and staff alike are fearful of opportunities to diversify, for a variety of reasons. It’s hard to assess when there isn’t a level playing field. Learners are often ill-equipped to be pro-active in their own education. Everyone longs for the easy life of spoon-feeding, and those that fight it, face poor feedback, more headaches and longer hours.

…I can dodge bullets? …when you’re ready, you won’t have to.

The trick, of course, is to keep the ‘cool’ (if any beyond novelty) of games and, more challengingly, programming because of the huge difference between choosing what (and whether) to play and the stranger task of designing/making/coding games. Part of the problem is the big gap between what children can reasonably program and the polished products that they are used to consuming. The other issue is what I call ‘Workification’; the consistent transforming of something fun and creative into mindless drudgery by well-meaning, possibly desperate educators, trying to make important skills relevant to an apparently disaffected youth.

Tonight, Ian Livingstone is touting the Next Gen initiative, which is the update showing what has happened post Livingstone-Hope, due at the end of October but being raised on NewsNight early next week according to Livingstone:

Ian Livingstone (@ian_livingstone)
07/10/2011 15:41
Newsnight running a feature on Next Gen report on 10 October ahead of the response. Hope Mr Gove watches!

There are, apparently lots of positives, but I feel were we in HE have the biggest contribution to make is in supporting teacher continuing professional development (CPD) and training for the new beyond ICT curricula that the Creative Technology agenda will be asking for. That’s where I will be putting my efforts!


I’m thinking of writing a book, “Reality is Borken”, in which I expound at length about how amazingly creative technologies have been squandered in Education by being over-hyped, over-used and under-evaluated. Somehow, I don’t think Jane McGonigal is going to be writing the Foreword.

    * credit to Corrado Morgana, a colleague at my university for inspiring this title. Otherwise, I’d have gone with “Reality is NOT broken”, which doesn’t have the same ring.
    ** This is a classic case of work avoidance, because I started all this with a complety different altdevblog idea!
    *** Dan, if you’re reading this, I’ve forgiven you now for losing (and subsequently not marking) one of my PGCE essays, costing me the Distinction I was working towards. It taught me a lot, that particular lesson.