Making Mistakes: How to get back into the game

In this dreary time of year, with the sky bleak and pets and old people predictably getting sick during the Holidays, it leads us to reflect on the thing that truly matters:

How to get back in the game

I have spent a fair bit of time this year attempting to establish and set myself into some contributory position within the game design community. Prior to this I had an interest in the gamification of education. Both have met with some resistance, but then again, perhaps I’m not willing or able to put in enough work to make it happen. Sorry, pity party over (for now).

Why Duelmasters got me thinking

Duelmasters is a CCG that was initially a manga / rip off of Magic the Gathering that then got bought out by Wizards of the Coast / Hasbro (designers / owners of Magic) that then cost WotC money in its apparent collapse which they have now reformatted / rebooted in Kaijudo which is being designed by a kind of nemesis of mine, James Hata (he won several championships of a CCG I was playing back in 2007 called Universal Fighting System which features fighting game characters in a brutal often unbalanced slug fest 2 player game), who had secured himself, likely rightly so, a position as a game designer within a company I had attempted to (unsuccessfully) court for a position within several times.

Duelmasters features a lose-win mechanic: Like most CCGs having more cards in your hand is a good thing (options it affords you), and your ‘life’ in the game was represented by face down cards from your deck at the beginning of the game that, as you lose life, becomes a part of your hand. Take a point of damage > draw a card. Built right into the game.

So yes, you just made it past my defenses and smacked me in the face, but I get to draw a card! Better yet was the very probably chance that the cards that get smacked into your hand could sometimes be played for free in the middle of your opponents turn completely disrupting his turn, potentially buying you a load of time to recover your poor position.

Game Over: Insert 25 cents to Continue

Video games back in the days were good at getting your money. In Gauntlet if your Wizard when so far past “is about to die” you could just inset some coinage and return to the fray. An old friend I haven’t “seen” (In Real Life) in a while and I went to the local movie theater (only place with arcade machines in my hometown) and dumped 20 bucks on the first Gauntlet Legends. Though I wonder how I was able to beat Battletoads as a kid on NES without the Game Genie (this happened) because ‘press start to continue’ was not an option. Oh no, son. You start back over again FROM STAGE ONE.

Such set backs are undesirable, but you had an unlimited amount of time (cause, I mean, who really goes to bed or really needed to study to just give answers on tests you’d already known the answers to before the lesson was taught?) to try it again. And, crap, hit that barrier, again. And, SO CLOSE, again.

Now a days, with save points, or other noobs to pwn, failure does not mean game over.

Failure in Real Life: Reality is Broken

Again I go back to my favorite book that got me headed, cognitively philosophically, down this path (of madness?): Reality is Broken (which you can also, apparently, also find as a free downloadable PDF: I’ll let you find it yourself. I’ve linked a spot where you’ll have to use monies). In this she suggests that games have so many fantastic and desirable outcomes, methods of interaction, avenues of maintaining focus, that is perhaps important, nay, preferable, nay, NECESSARY to consider the gamification of anything where in which it would improve the system. (note: at present gamification has become entirely too systematic focusing mostly on badges, or, as some now call it, pointification)

This lead me to consider the gamification of education. Or at least the aspect of gamification where failure doesn’t mean failure.

I presently work at a Credit Recovery school: people have perhaps ‘failed’ at the previous game and are now playing a new game, one where we let people get new lives and hit the start button as much as they’d like (or at least until they are 22). I say perhaps because many people prefer this to the other system. These kids are not failures, no more or less than anyone that lost a hand of poker, rolled doubles too many times in monopoly (of all games, I reference THAT one?!?) or got in a fight and got kicked out of school. Wait… that last one wasn’t an analogy at all… It is a good school that can really do a good job for students that want to play the game.

That could lead me to discussing the merits or motivation of the learning process, but, no. Not today. Today I continue to talk of mistakes.

Non-Electronic Game Mistakes

Unfortunately, even as the golden age of pulp games and gamers continues to ascend, I have not seen many (any?) games that have a decent lose-win mechanic built in (that didn’t also have an entirely too large of an immediate swing in who was winning from one turn to the next: I’m looking at YOU Fluxx!).

I think this is an area that needs exploring in pulp games, or perhaps I’m missing some aspect of already established games that already has it built in, but at a more subtle ratio than is evident in video games or Duelmasters or the credit recovery school I work at…

So, Game Designers, fill me in or take the challenge!

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Design Challenge: Mafia Mash

Last time… many (?) moons ago, I wrote a game design article detailing a game randomly generated from this page . The webpage randomly assigns a mechanic, a theme, a victory condition and a constraint (if you dare click the option) for a game! Here is a screen shot of what I got when I loaded it, just now.

Screenshot 2013-12-01 11.24.45Not that any of you can read that… it is asking for a game with Wagering Stock Holding and Paper and Pencil mechanics where in which you have a Bodyguard and Realm theme whose victory condition is to Help the Most Players… To be honest I may need to trim some of these things to make a game I’m thinking about. I honestly have little experience with making Paper and Pencil games lately… maybe I don’t know what a Paper and Pencil game entails? But I already have some ideas! I’m sure you do too!

The LAST time I visited the site (for the purposes of the design a game exercise) I got a Memory, Variable Player Powers game with a New York Secret Code theme where in which the player with the most amount of resources wins! Oh and no cubes. I cheated a little bit and have ‘player markers’ to help indicate control of territory.

This is a long post with many sections where in which I have optional rules. Skip them if you’d like. ALSO the set up is a bit of a bear. Just look at the picture to get an idea of the objective.

Try to enjoy!

Mafia Mash

Contents of game:
30 City Cards of 3 different colors (TBD). 5 river cards, 5 lakeside cards
30 Card Resource decks for each of the 3 colors (smaller cards, about ½ size of city cards)
10 Identity cards

Game Start
First, remove five city cards from the game. Look at their colors and remove a resource card corresponding to that color and place, in secret, face down under the city cards.

WARNING: SET UP EXPLANATION IS SUBPAR!!! SKIP IF YOU FEEL SO INCLINED! I’m really just trying to make a map look like this


Deal out the city cards to make a grid. DO worry about if the rivers connect. If you draw a river piece, go up a row and start on the far left and continue either building the river or filling out the row below until it has five wide, and then continuing above the river’s row until IT has five wide.
If you draw a lakeside card it must be the left most card. If you already HAVE a left card, place it to the left of a card already placed (yes this could make a row of six). Leave this column empty for possible future lakeside cards and fill those in as drawn, if at all. Start filling in the river row once you get down to four cards, starting from the far right. If there are any holes in the middle of the board, shift a non river column down to fill it.


Each player takes a secret identity either by choice, w/o letting other players know, or at random (depends on your style). Of course look at your own card.
These player identities let you ‘cheat’ in the game. More on this later.

Turn Sequence

During your turn starting with someone determined somehow… russian rollette? you may do one of three things.
1.) Gain a Resource from the colored deck from the color of a space you control:
2.) Gain control of a block adjacent to any block you control (if first turn of game… gain control of a block!)
3.) Play a secret resource from your stache.

1) If you chose to gain a resource, draw a card from a deck of cards corresponding in color to a space you control (pick one)! Some cards indicate that you play them immediately on drawing, others ask you to keep them secret (ones that say ‘secret’ are such) from the other players but all other cards are revealed and kept in front of you, face up. These will be properties, money, or influence. This is your stache. The player that controls the most out of a combination of these wins the game.

If you control multple blocks next to each other (you just have to be able to draw an adjacent path along them. NO Diagonal isn’t adjacent!) from a color you drew from, check the chart below
2 blocks? 2 cards.
4 blocks? 3 cards.
7 blocks? 4 cards.

2.) So now we see why we’d want to control more blocks. There are also points rewarded for this at the games’ end as well. Though we’ve got to pay for the control of some of those blocks! To control a block, if it had no resources on it yet, put a resource in your stache face down on that space.

Place one of your trade marks on that block when you control it. What, you didn’t bring your trade mark tag? Come on, pick something. What about Johnny Penneo, who leaves a penny? Billy Cheerio who leaves a round cereal? Don’t tell me, you don’t even have your own secret hand shake?

If another Mobster already has that block? Place a resource of a DIFFERENT kind (properties, money, influence) and SAME AMOUNT of cards as there was before (so if there was two, say a property and an influence, you’d have to throw down two money) on the block, from your stache, face down. What…? You didn’t remember what was there? No problem! Either discard a resouce (place back into the deck it came from and shuffle the deck) OR (Optional) just place your resources there and see if anyone calls your bluff.

There. NOW you control that block, remove that other guys mark and place yours there. Note: YES this can cause situations where you cannot normally be able to take a Block (all three resource types were already placed there).


Discovering Player Identities (Optional):

All Mobsters have their trade mark signals. The player identities will be dealt out at the beginning of the game. In addition to their twists to the above rules they get to do, that no one else gets to know they do, but they are allowed to say that they are able to do, there is a secret hand shake that other players need to know to be able to ‘deal’ with them. Each player, at the beginning of the game, makes up a secret handshake consisting of 3-5 moves. Players need to come up with a name for each move (for instance, ‘bacon lettuce tomato toast’) and they need to write down the words and a description of the move and then be sure to introduce themselves to each other player this way at the beginning of the game and a made up name for themselves (different than their identity card… or not).

During the game if you can’t remember what resources a player left on a Block you’re trying to take, you can force them to show you the resources by doing their secret handshake with them. If you do it correctly one of two things happens.

A1.) The player admits that that was his secret handshake and you look at the resources, then getting to place the correct one there in contrast (or not).
A2.) The player claims that that is NOT his secret handshake.

If he does the latter, you now get to challenge this claim. Everyone gets to look at his notes. If the player was lying and you did do his secret handshake, mostly correct… then the lying player gets one of your Marks (more on this later).

If you didn’t do the Handshake correctly one of two things can happen.
B1.) Obviously he claims that you didn’t do it correctly. You can challenge this, revealing his notes to all the players involved, but then you get TWO Marks, because you totally are a jerk.
B2.) He can claim you DID do it correctly and then you get to look at the Blocks resources.

(also optional)

ALSO during the game, no one knows what your secret mobster identity is (if you’re playing that way). During the game, if someone does something that is against the rules, and you don’t think the mobster identity they have allows them to do what they are claiming you can force them into a secret handshake. Just like you did with the hidden information on the Blocks.

You get the handshake right and they were cheating
C1) They admit to the handshake and the cheat, and take back the move.

C2) They admit to the handshake, but still attest that they weren’t cheating. They show you their identity and take a Mark.

C3) He denies that your handshake was right. Show all players his notes AND his identity, the cheater takes two Marks from you.

You get the handshake right, but they were NOT cheating
D1) They admit you got the handshake right (you did) and the cheat (which they weren’t) and takes back the move.
D2) They admit to the handshake and attest that they were not cheating (which they weren’t). They show either you their identity (if you agree to it) and then you take one Mark OR you don’t agree, they show everyone and you take Two Marks.

D3) He denies your handshake was correct. Show all players his notes on the shake, he takes a Mark, but then follow B2 (show you for one Mark to you or show to everyone and you take 2 Marks).

You get the handshake wrong

E1) He can show his notes to you (you take one Mark) if you agree or to everyone (if you don’t) and you take two Marks.
E2) He lies and claims you got the handshake right, and takes back the move.

In the case of anytime where a player was caught cheating, or pretends like he was caught cheating, the player has to undo the previous cheat and likely lose his action.

Marks on Players (not optional)

When you get a Mark from a player, that player can take a resource from you for each Mark you have. So, your first, that player gets one resource, their choice. Your second Mark of the game? Whichever player gave it to you gets TWO of your resources.

Game End

The game ends when two decks run out of cards, or if all but one player cannot expand.

Now reveal the face down cards from the game start! Shuffle them (facedown). Show all players one of them. And then a second and then a third. Scores points as based below. Ties split (rounding down) the difference.

1st card:
Most of that kind (by resource keyword: secret, money, properties or influence of card: 11 points
Second most: 8 points
Third most: 4 points
2nd card:
Most of that kind of card: 9 points
Second most: 6 points
Third most: 2 points
3rd card:
Most: 7 points
Second: 4 points

Next, score points based on each colored territory (do this for each color)
Player with most of the color: 7 points
Second most: 4 points
Third most: 1 point

Example Cards

Each colored deck has a different theme. Purple might have more influence cards than the rest. There are of course some oddities in the decks. Examples follow.

Inside Job (purple): Special. Secret. Play on a Blue Block to take control of it.
Concrete Shoes (green): Special. Secret. Play on a dock or river card to take control of it.

Golden Watch (blue): Special. Money. When you play this on a Block, you may take another action.

Police Contacts (purple): Special. Influence. Give the player you use this to take a Block from a Mark.

Each Identity allows you to break the rules. If you allow for cheating (optional rules above), each player can do this as many times as they’d like. Otherwise, flip your identity up (show everyone) when used. Turn upside down (to be reusable) each time you have a Block taken from you, but turn face up when you get a Mark.

Jimmy the Squid: Can take an action to control, as normal, any river or dock blocks, of those adjacent to those, w/o being adjacent to them.

Tommy Two Hats: When drawing from a resource, can discard a resource to draw from that resources colored deck instead. Draw an extra card when doing so.

The Piper: Can discard a resource to be able to break the adjacency rule for Blocks he can take an action to Control.

The Brute: When taking the action to take a Block from another player, you may discard a resource of the color of the block to give the controlling player a Mark after you take control.

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On Giving Up

When students enroll in courses, I always see this passion in their eyes. “Oh wow! Psychology! I want to learn that!” but when they actually get around to trying it, the appeal of whatever internal branding they’d applied to it doesn’t match up.

When you take a look at some game designs you’ve considered, and then try to implement it, something about the branding that your internal mind was doing with it didn’t quite match up.

When you design a lesson, sometimes the activities and scaffolding doesn’t line up.

Giving up is an interesting concept. Perhaps I’m hinting at it. Well ok, I just did, but I’m not really meaning that.

I was trying to force a goal of a game design blog a week, but it is good to focus on other things. Is it unattainable? Perhaps not, but worthwhile?

You’ve got to take time to refine previous games. Delve into PLAYING more existing games (do you guys do enough of that?). Researching Flow or how students chose or become self engaged, wanting to take on the task of learning something themselves (ever seen students or gamers look up how something works because they encountered it in class or the game, not because they had to learn it for the class or game? It is wonderful!).

Take a break. Smell some other flower.

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My friends are good designers; GDC #3 Species

I do this as a hobby and art: not a career (for now?). Just saying.

If you were reading along, last time I posted a screen shot from boardgamizer    which, every time that you load the page, you are greeted (taunted) with a game concept. When I loaded the page last time I got a simultaneous player action game mechanic with a legacy environmental theme involving player elimination victory with fewer than 30 some cards. I’ll speak on the game I attempted on this after I post a screen shot of the webpage which will be the next challenge I attempt.

Screenshot 2013-10-25 21.05.49

A game with memory variable player powers involving secret codes in new york where in which the most amount of resources wins with a constraint of no cubes. I always read that as no meeples either: essentially no markers.

I just read this to my wife and she immediately thought different kinds of gangsters (Jimmy the Squid, Tommy Gunhands, etc…) where you have to get money (of course). Not sure on the player actions, but you can force other players to help you if you can remember their secret hand shake (that last bit was my idea!). My wife is awesome? BUT I’m getting ahead of myself. Not on the wife being awesome thing I mean…



OMG that super hawt movie from the 90s all boys who loved sci-fi and women loved as teenagers?!? … no sorry. Though now that I’ve posted that picture… maybe I should go back to the drawing board… Also, note: This name (species) has already been taken for a board game… moving along:

The time I clicked on boardgamizer and got the inspiration for this , I was considering a game where everyone was going to be some kind of microorganism blob thing, we would have 12 or so cards in our hand that would either be actions, permanent bonuses/ actions, environmental effects and our blob would grow or get weaker until it was consumed by other players. At this point, because I hate player elimination and thought it would tie to the legacy theme, I was trying to think of a way where in which the absorbed players could now either HELP or hinder the person they were absorbed by.

Another person in my life, whose lady will be having a baby soon, there by possibly decreasing how much he can antagonize (read: improve) my design ideas. I’d mentioned the above in more vague less “one-paragraph” sort of manner with him, he took the idea and, like he does with all of them, chopped it up into pieces and made something else. Curiously, instead of making something simpler, he actually made something more complicated, which I then refined.

4 decks of specialization card types (‘steal’ ‘grow’ ‘destroy’ ‘cognitive’) each having 3 phases (I, II, III), with each phase having four – eight unique (?) cards. These are ‘powers’ of the species.
6 cards labeled A-C and also 1-5. Or use dice… something to indicate a letter and number chosen in secret and then revealed.
Colored cubes representing your genes.
Tokens (or dice?… SOMEthing) to track population.

Goal: Advance species, which consist, initially, of three specializations, strategically guessing and/or choosing which one to invest your genes so that you have the most genes in 1.) the species with the most population 2.) the most advanced species and / or 3.) the species with the most genes in it.

Cards: All backs of cards indicate what specialization they come from. The backs also indicate what phase they are for (I, II, III).

On the text side, there will be spaces for genes (cubes) to be placed. The number of cubes needed is referred to as ‘complexity’. A title. A keyword. A phase reminder again. Game text, which either does its thing every turn, every turn when filled with genes, when it is filled with genes only once or only once when revealed.


Start: Take one more card than there are players from each of the phase I cards (which consists of 6 different cards). So in a three player game, you will take 4 cards from each of the four specializations. Start making species (one more than there are players) by placing three cards next to each other, skipping a card if it is a repeat specialization: then another three (skipping as usual); then another three … until you have the correct amount of species.

Return the remaining cards (this will be equal to the number of players) to the remaining other cards. Each player should have a three cards that say ‘A’ ‘B’ or ‘C’ and ‘1’ ‘2’ … up to the number of species in play.

Place a die or tokens or whatever is being used to track population near each species. Make sure it indicates five initially.

Species: Each species now has three specializations, place them in an agreed order so that one specialization is clearly specialization A, another B and the third C. Each species should also be organized so that everyone knows which is species ‘1’ ‘2’ and so on.

Each species now has three powers with varying abilities and complexity. A species will draw from the next phase deck for that specialization when its current (and any previous) specialization’s powers have equal or more genes than its complexity. At the end of a turn, draw a card from that specializations’ phase deck and place it face up next to (vertically oriented perhaps) the previous ‘power’.

*Resolve any revealed power cards from the previous turn.
*Players choose which species and which specialization of that species they wish to spread their genes into. Reveal, and then place cubes onto that species. [3 cubes in a two player game, 2 in a three to five player]
*All species with a population of 2 or more gains 1 population.
*Draw new powers from the next phase of a power that is full of genes.
*Resolve all species active powers (starting with species with the least population or species one if it is the first turn OR the species that is to the right of the species that was first last turn). Resolve one of its specializations phase I powers and go right, and then its next specialization, right, and then so on, going up to Phase II and then Phase III. If a species doesn’t have a power to resolve in a phase or specialization skip to the next species.

Powers: There are two types of powers. One kind stays on the species, the other is an environmental consequence which will, unless otherwise indicated, be returned to box.

Environmental consequences will only be in Phase II or III decks and will be things like

“Acidic growth: Halve (rounding up) all species’ populations with ‘grow’ or ‘cognitive’ as their specialization with the fewest genes.”

“Dust production: All species lose four population (to a minimum of two) unless they have grow at phase II or higher. Leave this card in play. It is cloudy.”

“Malfunctioning mutation: Leave this power on this species’ specialization. Players cannot chose it to place genes on it.”

Here is a list of ideas for permanent powers.

Phase I – Grow Specialization

Photosynthesis: Plant. Complexity 4. End of Turn (EoT). Gain 1 (population). Gain 1 if not cloudy.
Warm blooded: Animal. Complexity 4. EoT. Gain 1. Gain 1 if not cloudy
Sexual Reproduction: Animal. Complexity 5. EoT. Gain 1. Gain 1 if there is another Animal or if this has 20+ population.
Seeding: Plant. Complexity 5. EoT. Gain 1. Gain 1 if there is another Plant or if this has 20+ population.
Spores: Fungus. Complexity 6. EoT. Gain 2.
Asexual: Complexity 3. Draw from the Phase I deck for the next power. If you cannot, draw from the Phase II increasing its complexity by three. EoT. Gain 1.

This is an example of the powers for the ‘Grow’ specialization. The ‘steal’ will deal with parasites or eating plants or animals for energy, the ‘destroy’ does not grow the population at first, but decreases other populations, and the ‘cognitive’ does a hodgepodge of things.

Some later phases will be stronger (gain a population for each gene placed on the species to its left), do odd things (remove a gene from a random or specific species), or advance itself faster (add a gene from the player with the least genes in play) or differently (replace the highest phase power in the specialization to the right on this species with one drawn from the same or higher phase deck).

End: After a time a species may run out of population. It no longer activates its powers while that is the case. The game ends when either 1.) only two species are active 2.) a species can no longer advance in any specialization 3.) a card says the game ends.

At which point players get points
1.) the species with the most population
if you’ve the most genes on that species, you get 10 points! If you are in second place 7! Third? 4!
2.) the most advanced species
you got them on that species? As above, but 9, 6 and 3!
3.) the species with the most genes in it.
As above but 8, 5, and 2!

Oh right, player with most points wins?


This game is completely untested, I mostly have all of the powers created but not balanced. Heck, it may not even work as I intended (not sure why…).

It has simultaneous action selection, but I hate player elimination. The environmental aspect and legacy made me think of evolving species. And, yes, it does have more than 30 some cards, but not 30+ cards all at once (in most games) if you exclude the player action choice cards (A3, etc…).

This game came along quicker once I’d seen a friend’s interpretation of my verbal design. Just goes to show that it is always good to design with others’ feedback!

So if you have any feedback, the comment button is below.

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Board Game Design Challenge #2

Often I speak with people about game design. Heck, my newest job hired me on because, if I do game design and I like to think and speak on gamification of education, I must be good at technology. I am not a Luddite, but I am also not a mocking up photoshop images. Definitely a goal I want to achievement unlock for myself winter break, I digress, slightly:

I am not an image whiz. Does that make the ideas for my designs worse? … You judge?

Game Design Challenge #2 is a fancy site where, as soon as you load it, your mind is taken over by the absurdity of some game suggestions. like last time, I will load you a screen shot of the page. I am almost afraid to load the page and share the image…

design 2

I’ve had scarier ones… I will write a game based on the above (Mechanic: simultaneous player action with a legacy environmental player elimination (booo!) victory with fewer than 30 some cards) next week. But first, let us talk about last weeks image I had. You can see it here 

The result from last week was a pattern building/take that mechanic themed with curses and street fighting where in which the player with the most courage points wins with the twist: Everything must be Black and White.

The Journey

When I saw this I immediately thought “Oh! Half circle forward punch! (the street fighting bit)!!! THAT is the pattern building and, duh, take that because I’m totally going to try to stop your pattern and and… I guess it will cause people to swear (curse) a lot? And… hmm….

Instead I settled on a brawl between witches trying to curse one another.

Curses, I’ll have to Toil again

Before play, players decide if they want to be a good witch or a bad witch. Ones ‘deck’ of 24 cards is called their Litany, once their deck is complete a winner will be decided.

Cards are called Verses. Witches are weaving the fate of all other players. Each Verse has two colored symbols on the card, one on the upper left, called the the Verses Passage and one larger and central called its Presence. There are only two colors and two kinds of symbols, Black and White and Circle and Star.

Witches draw two verses into their hand, called Tongue, with which they will play (speak) into a play area near their litany, called their Tapestry. Good witches can speak new verses on their tapestry by playing the same symbol their passage has with an in-play verse’s presence, bad witches have to speak the same color passage as there is their verse’s presence. You can also speak on another witch’s tapestry (and are rewarded doing as such). Good witches must speak a verse with a passage that is a new color on a presence, bad witches a new symbol.

Once you have spoken on another witch’s tapestry that witch is Cursed and now must only speak on their own tapestry, though, once they have done so, can then further speak on other witch’s tapestry.

Further, when a witch curses another, the witch that spoke that curse is to discard a verse from their litany into a separate pile: these verse are called Omen and at the end of the game is the source of victory.

Should a witch not wish to play a card they may think of new verse from their litany (draw a verse). If they should ever have more than 3 verse on their tongue at a time.

Cheaters are to be punished, but they must be called out. A witch may shout “Toil and Trouble!” to freeze the game state, state the cheat, and try to determine if it was cheating or not. If there was cheating return the state of game to a non cheating situation (misspeak results in removing the offending verse or if there are too many verse on a witch’s tongue, the removal of those verse from their tongue), the cheating witch becomes cursed and the witch who shouted gets an omen. As soon as that witch gets an omen, speaking resumes.

The game is won by the player with the most omen, and then with the least verse in their litany, then on their tongue and then by who the good witch is and then by who is female and then by who is older.

Oh wait, did I forget to mention that there are no turns here? Go back and read those rules again. Things can get quite heated as you quickly try to out speak other witches and catch cheaters.

This game degrades into patiently waiting for the other witch to speak a verse on their litany, but often they will be ready to speak a verse on your litany RIGHT after they play on their own, uncursing themselves. Game is clearly better with more than one witch, if it is good at all to be perfectly honest. 🙂


Mechanics: A game that forces you to match certain things with other things (pattern making) and doing so on someone else’s pattern messes them up (take that) where the theme is dueling witches cursing one another (street fight / curses) and where messing someone else up is what gives you the reward (… courage points?) that only has two colors and two symbols in two spots with two decisions to make on whether to play on opponents or on your own pattern (black and white).


I have not made a mock-up of this game for you to gander at. I have no images, though I did make some cards with microsoft paint :). I figured, it is just as easy to draw these on blank playing cards.

Oftentimes a lot in education can be done WITHOUT technology (ok well without ‘fancy’ technology). This is what gets my goat with gamification: it always presumes that the game is video or some social technology.

Anyhow, you can easily make the above game yourself by purchasing some blank playing cards and using a sharpie! Have fun!

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Game Design Challenge #1

There is a fun webpage

Every time you visit it, it gives you a fun suggestion for a game to design. For instance, you may have just clicked above and gotten some interesting game design challenge. There are clickable links on mechanics that explain (sort of) some of the mechanics. This is what *I* got when I just loaded the page.


As interesting as that above one is, I would like to dwell on one given before.

The host of the site gave a general challenge (one of his that popped up for him once when he viewed his own page?). Action Programming, Gladiator, Last Man Standing, Must play in under 20 minutes.

Robot Battle Arena!

Players start on opposite sides of an arena. Obviously you want something with decent divisibility, so 2, 3 and 4 works nicely on a hex based grid. You want it tight, because if you are going to program you robots to battle you need them to stay close, so a hex grid with a side length of 3 hexes, the size of your standard Settlers of Catan board.


Hopefully you get the picture… well not that big actually… couldn’t find and don’t have the tech savy / will power to find the correct sized one…

you have a collection of 9 standard actions and 1 special action unique to each robot. Players secretly program their robot with 3 of their 10 actions face down and in order that they want them played out the next three turns. Players then reveal their next action, resolve them, the next, and then the next. Then pick your next three actions, resolve them in turn with players, and then your last three actions, resolving them for the end of the game. One action goes unplayed.

The actions are various movement and attacking abilities. For instance

Lance: Hit any robots three spaces in front, move right back and then hit any robots again three spaces in front.


Guard Shift: Ignore the next hit on you, move back left and turn to face.


Sweep: Move front, move and turn front right, move front and then move and turn front right again, hitting each robot that is left after each move.

In playtesting we came on some problems, well the first right from the beginning: Player elimination sucks. Instead we just decided to track hits. The player with the least hits and deals the most hits wins. It requires tracking who has hit who, but so be it.

Also, we had issues of hitting the barrier. So, like a wrestling match, you just turn you robot 180 and start going the other direction. This has some fun effects of bouncing off of the wall and swinging for more damage sometimes!

The game definitely needs some changes as far as what powers are fair for the standard set up (Grapple: Turn to face, hit the first robot 3 spaces away front, move robot next to your front, hit that robot again), and which ones are too strong for the special robot action (Counter Surge: Prevent the next two hits on your robot and do 1 damage to the hitter) or not. But over all it was comical and had SOME strategy and definitely played in under 20 minutes.

So I recommend, all you game designers out there, to try this out once a week or month.


The educator in me wants to know why this odd passion I have for game design can’t be similarly applied to academic exercise? Why can’t skills and the progress of skills in these such activities be rewardable and/or testable measurable objectives for academic environments / standards etc…?

Am I weird for thinking that the skills to create such games are more/equally important than/as some other skills requested in some curriculum?

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Practice Bloom’s higher cognitive domains

I Don’t Know

My least favorite three (four?) words, to be followed by “I don’t care” or merely a shoulder shrug. No impetus to find out, no PRACTICE at finding out or forming an opinion. I have much more to say about this some other time. It is just a decent transition to the topic at hand.


My former field experience supervisor spoke with me the other day about one of his new goals for student learning: Problem solving skills. Not immediately, but later in the day I realized this was what I wanted my students to do in my Games Club.

Each week or so I would present a new game. I requested that, once a month (ha!) students do a Lickerts on things about the game (was it fun, too complicated, etc…) and tie in past games and other topics (math, history, grammar) to the game they are reviewing in a few sentences (ha!).

High on the list of Bloom’s taxonomy  (’s_Taxonomy )
we have the idea of tasks that are easy to do with games to prime students to the idea of doing this with other more important concepts!

Core Content Standards are asking us to go deeper in lieu of wider if need be. With less content to cover, in some way, why not take a break to do some activities that involve analysis on things that they can be more easily engaged in?


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Designing an engaging game

You will learn as an educator that it is important to engage students with prior experiences.

What is similar that you KNOW about to what I am about to teach? What can I use from your own situation and life experiences to assist you in understanding? How can I model this instructional procedure or objective disguising it or applying it to the real world?

Very often we’ll use money. Food. The cost of food. Dimensions of familiar objects. Stats of athletes or cars or surveys the students themselves created and administered. Are we having the opposite problem the electronic games industry might be having, according to one company? Here’s an article discussing a new Indie games company “No Goblin”.

Video games often fall back on science fiction or fantasy.

Today I witnessed a word problem I had not seen before.
The problem and the solution are good examples used to elicit and showcase problem-solving skills and teaching techniques not commonly encountered or seldom considered in a ‘normal’ classroom.

Great. Fantastic even! but…

Are educators also relying on the strengths of situated cognition as a theme for engagement?

Is that like trying to engage a fish with water?


Or maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Let me know.

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On personal (institutional?) motivation

It was recommended to me to read “Learning to Labor” by Paul Willis by Aaron Schmidlin, who is now, I believe, a doctor in education from the Ohio State University (or close to it). Though I have been unable to locate the book form of this, I have read a chapter in the book “Theories of Social Order” entitled and by the same as the aforementioned recommendation among a collection of other chapters on similar themes.

It was offered to me as material to consider what to teach fourth year high schoolers enrolled in mathematics who have little to no interest in furthering their education, I believe, though Mr. (Dr?) Schmidlin often replies to my massive queries with one sentences. The article outlines the normal behavior of groups of individuals who are ‘fighting the system’ created by mandatory education, how this seems to have been reinforced from their parent’s habits and professions which might be a balancing system of social control enacted and supported by the ruling class furthering to help reinforce social class and mobility restriction…

I was reminding of this article two fold: Watching the movie “In Time”,, where their currency is people’s time left that they have to live (reward system of people’s lives being lengthened or shortened), and whose ending basically becomes a poor and predictable retelling of Robin Hood. AND ALSO from an article from

discussing which appears, on the outside, to look like an agent of social change interested in establishing a network of alternative ways of funding with their veil of some sort of revolution of a new order… Correct me if I’m wrong, please.

Further this got me considering my own students, and how I see them begging and pleading and waiting for a Robin Hood (extrinsic rewards interest) and being unable to see the use and opportunities of the system they are embedded in (Society 3.0’s suggestive intrinsic rewards?).


And we can go back to Bartle inspired gamer types discussion
where someone tries to break Bartle’s player system up for more digestible non MUD (multi-user dungeon, or, among the first online interactive role playing games) systems.

There is a paper addressing these sort of break-downs in more detail along with a fantastic warning

“Lastly, all the research described here is on digital games, not gamified services.” … “There is also real danger that the design of gamified systems will continue to be based on non-empirical research from the wrong context, ultimately leading to commercial failure and user disappointment.”

And yet, I find it tough to consider things unreachable that lay outside these categories…


But still I continue to look at Gamification as an answer to the crisis of education in the U.S. and for world problems. I was inspired by McGonigal’s “Reality is Broken” (and if you haven’t read this book yet, shame on you! Its only 12 bucks on amazon! ) when she mentioned how many hours of game time is being spent on situations that could have been gamified systems that could cure the world of its problems. These students that are not playing to win (see previous blog in January), these students rebelling against the opportunities to make themselves better (no not but thanks for thinking about it!), or perhaps the systems created by some intangible agent of social control as might be interpreted by Paul Willis’s Learning to Labor… Something has to finally break through and SOMEhow I feel it is the very same thing that I ran to when I was rebelling in middle school that might cause the turn about.

We just need to find the kind of gamers we are dealing with in education and the way to turn the goals of education into a game that they will play.

Please help me by spreading the idea, sharing your ideas and keep creating motivation and interest as high as you can.

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I have recently enrolled in a Game Theory course     Mind you, this is an online course and not really ‘for credit’, but I’m not one to turn down free structured knowledge. More on that later.

Game Theory focuses on ‘systems’ and predicting preferences and analyzing the system and its participants. There was an interesting theorem (proved) that states something along the lines of “in a system with finite actions and its participants play to win, the outcome and actions can be predicted”.

There is a ‘game’ that was introduced in this course, during this time, called Keyne’s Beauty Content. I decided to make a work sheet for it and play it with my students (Note: NOT gamification). Here is the lesson in short:

* Discuss definition of the theory introduced above.
* Stress the concept of playing to win, and get feedback on what that means to the students.
* Play game (with accompanied worksheet)
Each player picks an integer from 1 to 100. You (or all depending on the capacity of the students) calculate the mean of the integers, and then you take half of that result. This is the target number. The player with the number closest to the target number wins a prize. Players tied all get a prize.

After each round, have players record both target number and winning number. Repeat the game. After round 3, ask if any players see a pattern emerging (the numbers begin to drop). Continue play.

When the numbers spike for some reason (some students not playing to win), remark how the predictability of a system is disturbed when people don’t play to win. Ask, or comment, about what happens in a system that can’t be predicted, and some other examples of NOT playing to win and the consequences of those actions, not just to the players that chose that, but to others that were playing to win.

Continue play. At around round 7 to 8 the numbers are close to ‘1’, and several people might have all won by choosing 1. At this point I get very energetic and I start a lecture

“In a system, if we all play to win, we can predict it. We can set up a system, a school, family, business, government, able to predict and PROVIDE. If everyone plays to win, everyone will be educated, have clothing, food, a decent job. But when people DON’T play to win, they mess everything up. Some punk picks on another student in school, disrupting the whole class. Some students cheat on their homework, slowing themselves and lots of other people down at the same time. People steal. People assault people. Some crazy person comes into an Elementary school with guns and shoots a bunch of KIDS!!! If EVERYONE plays to WIN, we don’t have these problems. So on this NEXT round, what number do we chose to play to WIN?!? (point at a student)”

They’ll answer “1”. You point to the next student and say “we are WHAT?” and they answer “1”.

At this point, if you’ve played the drama correctly, they all say 1. At this point I picked my prizes up, put them away saying “OK, so the play to win of school is to learn. PLAY TO WIN!”

Free Structured Knowledge

My school has a lot of students that don’t do their homework, or don’t do what was not stated. None of them ask for work, I ask THEM to DO work. To this, should we instate a leveling system?

Each assignment is worth at most 10 points. At the end of the grading period, out of 300 points, you will be given a grade. I will only ever GIVE you an assignment if you ask for it. I will only ever GIVE assignments up to 250 points worth. YOU must find something to do that will make up the 50 points different. YOU must ask for the work. YOU must earn your grade, or remain at level 0.

Too harsh?

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