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Boardgame Brainstorm - Blather, Rinse, Repeat
August 9th, 2008
11:02 pm

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Boardgame Brainstorm
A while ago, at the Game Developers Conference (which had previously been called the "Computer Game Developers Conference", but folks didn't want to alienate console, arcade, or cellphone developers, I guess. But boardgames and gambling aren't really the focus of the thing.) I went to a presentation called "The Metagame", which was an attempt to encourage discussion about games through the medium of a game.

Much like Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics" was an attempt to encourage discussion about comic books through the medium of a comic book.

I love "meta" in this sense. But that's not where I'm going with this.

I'm thinking of a variation on the game I saw at GDC where I encourage discussion about stuff through the medium of a game. I lose the game-about-games recursion, but that's OK. Douglas Hofstadter will have to forgive me.

This is a sketch of the way I imagine the game right now:

First, I create a deck of cards (think of Apples to Apples, if that helps), each describing a cultural phenomenon. It might be "The TV Show 'Friends'", "Tetris", "Patrick Stewart", or "Zima". Or, you know, anything. I expect players to bring some topics with them. I think I'll encourage them to bring ideas that most of my friends would recognize, and might form a strong opinion about.

Second, I create a deck of cards (again, if Apples to Apples helped you before, we're on to the adjective cards (the green cards?)... sort of) with comparisons on them. Something like "... is sexier than ...", or "... is artier than ...", or "... is more egalitarian than ... ". This one's harder to come up with than the other deck, so it'll probably be shorter. I'm already finding my list for this having several synonyms, and I'm not sure I like that.

Finally, I create some sort of grid-like-board for the first deck's cards to be placed on. The details of that are open to some experimentation, so if you imagine a chessboard with spaces big enough for cards, that's a good start. Also, I need some playing pieces. Two red pawns and two blue pawns, maybe. Or black and white. Whatever I can find.

I said "Finally", but that's just the steps of preparing the game ahead of some boardgame party I might throw in the future. Like I said, guests to the party might be encouraged to bring cultural phenomena. I like asking them to bring phenomena without telling them about the game. I don't know if that'd bring a better diversity of ideas, or scare people off.

THEN - when people show up for the game, I'd deal out cards face up for every space on the board, and place a red pawn and a blue pawn somewhere on the board. Opposite corners, maybe - it doesn't really matter much. Maybe place the pawns first, then deal the cards out at random.

ALSO - divide the teams into two teams (and maybe an audience). One team is red, one is blue.

ALSO - deal out three (maybe?) of the comparator cards in a column, next to the board. Place the other red pawn to the left of the first card, and the remaining blue pawn to the right of the first card. You should be able to look at the card and think [RED PAWN] is sexier than [BLUE PAWN]. Which might lead you to look on the board at the locations of the red and blue pawns and substitute the phenomena into the comparison, and read a full assertion: "The Television Show 'Friends' is sexier than Tetris" for example. You may or may not agree with the assertion, which leads us to the central bits of gameplay (below).

That was all setup. Now, on a team's turn, they get to do the following: (Assume it's red team's turn for the following - when it's blue's turn, just swap everything I say)

1. Red Team gets to move the red (board) piece from one phenomenon to an adjacent phenomenon. This creates a new assertion.
2. Blue Team decides if they agree with Red Team's assertion.
3. If so, go to step #6
4. If not, Blue Team issues a CHALLENGE. Red Team must deliver a short (~1 minute) argument why the assertion is true. Blue Team then gets time (~1 minute) to rebut, arguing why the assertion is false.
5. The audience votes to decide whose argument was more compelling. If Red wins, they go to step #6. If Blue wins, Red's turn is over. It's Blue's turn. Go to step 1, and replace "Red" with "Blue" and vice versa.
6. Red team gets to do one of the following:
6a. Move again - as above, including the debate round. If Red moves successfully to a new location, they score 50 points. If Red is challenged on this second move and wins, they score 50 (for the move) plus 50 (for the challenge). If red is challenged and loses the argument, they score NOTHING.
6b. Move the comparator pawns to a new card, discard the old card, and draw to replace. No score.
6c. Swap the comparator pawns. This would reverse the sense of the comparison. So, for the above example, the assertion becomes "Tetris is sexier than The Television Show 'Friends'". There is no score for this, either - but it could be a strategic move, based on what comparisons are up, and where the pawns are.
7. End of Red's turn. Blue moves next. Go to step 1.

This is all pretty rough, and the scoring needs fiddling with to feel right.

I don't mind blurting this out to all the (both of the) readers of my journal, because it's not really my idea anyway, and I don't see a lot of reason to keep it locked up. It reminds me of a cross between Louis Black's "The Root of All Evil" and "1000 Blank White Cards". Which is to say, it's a do-it-yourself argument. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, let me know how it works out.


I've already got around 90 topics and around 40 comparisons, which could get me started. I think I want more comparisons, and I'm sure that if I spend time on those, the topics (cultural phenomena) will similarly grow, which is fine.

If / when I host such a game, I'll post back here how it turned out. And maybe even a PDF starter kit so that you can host a game at your home.

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