International Games Day @ your library Game on November 18, 2017!

Game Review: Cheap Ass Games: Pairs & Unexploded Cows Review

Posted on November 3, 2016

Jeremy has degrees in Game Design and English and is currently working on his Master’s degree in Library Science at UNT. As the Programming and Outreach Assistant at the UNT Media Library, Jeremy uses his knowledge, skills, and connections within the gaming community to create engaging, creative, and educational events for students in the UNT community.

What do you get when you cross a Pair, a Cow, and a whole lot of Nonsense? A ton of free games from Cheapass Games! Haven’t heard of them? We have, and I can tell you, their games are great. Here are a couple of my favorites.

Pairs: As a fan of Patrick Rothfuss’s work, Pairs came onto my radar very early. I had the privilege of watching it as it came into being through Kickstarter and watching one of the artists, Shane Tyree, create some of the illustrations. When I heard they were also doing a Girl Genius deck, the fate of this game was sealed for me. I was even more excited when I discovered it was a fantastically designed game.

Pairs has a number of draws to it. First, is its simplicity. Like most games produced by Cheapass Games, Pairs is small and easy to play. With a simple yet strategic press your luck mechanic, Pairs offers an experience that is both easy to pick up yet mentally engaging.Pairs

The second draw is how many variants can be played with the same deck. The triangular style deck (1x1, 2x2, 3x3…) allows for over fifteen different games to be played with just one deck and at most a set of chips or chits to bet or keep score with.

Additionally, there are over a dozen different versions of artwork for the game pulling from many different fandoms, creating with each a different experience or providing for a different variant. Like I mentioned before, the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss was connected to this project from the beginning. Two of the deck designs are based upon the world from the book. They even added a Princess and Mr. Whiffle version as well. Some other versions include the Muses deck from Girl Genius, a baby Cthulhu deck called “Shallow Ones”, and a deck based upon Professor Elemental, the steampunk rap artist from the UK.

Check out Pairs here.

Unexploded Cow: Very few games can claim to successfully combine the themes of science, history, and economics into a single game, and still remain short, simple, and fun for a wide range of audiences. Unexploded Cow does this with a healthy dose of ridiculousness and strategic tomfoolery.

Could solving the problem of a Mad Cow epidemic in England, and an overabundance of unexploded bombs in France be as simple as bringing the two together?

Unexploded cowsIn this game, players take turns playing cow cards, and paying the cost of procuring the cows. Then at the end of each turn, a bomb may be found. As the game proceeds, players will keep paying money to the central pot, while collecting money each time a bomb goes off. Once all the cities have been cleared, the player who has made the most money wins!

I love this game for a few reasons. The period style, yet silly cartoon illustrations do a great job highlighting the theme, and the general ridiculousness of it. The gameplay is simple enough to learn and creates a depth of player interaction that many games lack. Unexploded Cow is a game I find great for mixed age groups. It easily creates fun and interesting moments that will make any game night memorable.

Check out Unexploded Cow here.

Donor Spotlight: Glass Plate Game

Posted on October 17, 2016

Stir up conversation at your library with the Glass Plate Game. This year, International Games Day is happy to have sponsorship from the Glass Plate Game who have graciously donated a number of copies available for interested registrants.

Named for its origins related to the Glass Bead Game mentioned in Magister Ludi by Glass Plate GameHerman Hesse, the Glass Plate Game is a game played without hard rules and without a concrete goal. The aim of the game is to spur interesting and creative conversation.

Together players consider concepts depicted on a spread of cards and draw connections between these concepts to build chains of thought. Simple in nature, the Glass Plate Game is a wonderful exercise in cooperative thinking with no winners or losers. It's a great device for facilitating conversations around experiences and ideas. 

This cooperative game, created by Dunbar Aitkins, is for 4-8 players ages 13+ and takes about 120 minutes to play.

Thank you Glass Plate Game for donating to International Games Day!
Glass Plate Game


Paizo Donation

Posted on August 4, 2016

We are delighted to welcome back Paizo as a sponsor again this year! They graciously provided several copies of their Pathfinder Beginner Box to early registrants.

Pathfinder is a fantasy roleplaying game (RPG). The full game can be played with 2 to 5 players, and could be adapted for more. One player is the Game Master (GM) who tells the story and plays any monsters or other non-player characters (NPCs). The other players play as various races and classes of adventurers (think Lord of the Rings: human ranger, elven archer, etc). Playing time for a single adventure usually takes a few hours. A campaign may take many hours over multiple meetings.

The Beginner Box is a great way to introduce someone to Pathfinder and roleplaying games in general. The Pathfinder Core Rule Book is 576 pages long, which can be a little intimidating to someone who has never played an RPG before. This Beginner Box has a 64-page guide for the players and a 96-page GM guide which is a lot more manageable for first-time players.

Books included in the box

Books included in the box

The player’s guide takes you through everything you need to know to create your own character and the basics of how to play the game. It is full of helpful diagrams and bold boxes that explain how the mechanics of the game work, without getting bogged down in details.

There are also a number of pre-made characters for included people who want to just jump right into playing without creating their own character. However, one of my personal favorite things about the Beginner Box is the inclusion of the blank character creation sheet. There are a lot of versions of character sheets out there and everyone has their favorite, but for a beginner who has never played an RPG before, the one included in the Beginner Box is incredibly well laid out. The guide walks you step-by-step through creating your character and makes it clear where all the information needs to go on your character sheet by including letters on both the sheet and in the player guide. Players won't get lost filling out the character sheet... they may get lost in their adventure though. That's up to the GM.

The GM guide has a pre-written adventure that takes the GM though all the steps of running an adventure. The adventure has a number of situations and combats that allow the GM to learn how to handle a number of situations. Even if someone has been a player for a while and wants to try their hand at GMing, the GM guide and the pre-written adventure would be a great first place to start. The rest of the guide has a ton of information to help the GM create their own adventures.

This box contains enough content to get players and GMs up and running and playing right away as well as enough resources for them to later upgrade to the full set of rules and scenarios available.

The box also contains a flip-mat which is double-sided. One side depicts a pre-made dungeon map. The other side features a dry erase sheet with a grid of one-inch squares on one side. GMs may use the mat to draw out their own rooms and dungeons.

Both sides of the flip-mat

Both sides of the flip-mat

There is also a large collection of cardboard mini figures which can be used to represent players characters, as well as the creatures and other NPCs with whom they interact.

Character minis not yet punched out of the cardboard

Character minis ready to be punched out of the cardboard

The box also includes a set of 7 polyhedral dice. I would recommend purchasing a few extra sets of dice to add to the box so that players and the GM can each have their own set to roll. Dice are readily available at your local game store, on Paizo’s website or on Amazon.


The box is a great single item that patrons can check out or use in the library to get started with RPGs.

Pathfinder Society

For International Games Day a great way to incorporate the box is to have members of the Pathfinder Society come to the library to teach and help run some games.  The Pathfinder Society Organized Play is a worldwide group of players and GMs that play in pre-written adventures with an overarching story line. They have volunteers who help to organize and run games in places like game stores and libraries. You can find your local contact on the Pathfinder Society section of the Paizo website.

Roleplaying games are a great way to get people telling stories and using their imaginations while working together to solve problems such as defeating dragons. The Pathfinder Beginner Box is a great first step towards incorporating RPGs into your library.

Game Profile (and update): Global Gossip Game

Posted on October 27, 2014

Hi everyone! I was going to write this as two separate posts - a game profile piece and a GGG update.

But then I thought about it a little more, and it occurred to me that it might actually be worth profiling the GGG itself... partly because a game profile of a game like Gossip seems so counterintuitive. I mean, what's to say? Games don't come much simpler - in fact it's so simple that some particularly doctrinaire folks refuse even to call it a game.[1]

And yet every year dozens of libraries (and a growing number of schools) and hundreds of people seek it out and enjoy it. So clearly something's up. What might that be?

Well, for starters, one of the reasons people refuse to call it a game is actually one of the most interesting things about it: unlike many games, where the pleasure comes from the exercise of skill, the entertainment of a game of Gossip derives entirely from failure. A game where the phrase survived intact from one end of a room to the other would be... well, flabbergasting, actually, and interesting as a curiosity, but also kind of boring in and of itself.

(On the other hand it would be interesting to see what kind of Secret Phrase could maintain that kind of longevity. It's certainly true that some things last better than others - and not solely on grounds of phonetic clarity. But I digress...)

Another (and related) reason that it's interesting is that there's no team and no victory: even traditional co-op games which do away with inter-player competition still set the players up as a team competing against the system of the game itself. Gossip, though, just has players and an outcome.

But I think that the reason it's such a tenacious meme is that it's iconic in the way it lays bare the fallibility of our communication and comprehension. Like a good short poem, it distils some central part of the human experience down to its essential nature - in this case, the way in which, even with the best intentions, we get our facts wrong. And it's inescapable that we are complicit in this - because that's the whole game!

And the fact that not everyone in a game of Gossip necessarily plays with the purest intentions, that some people intentionally change the phrase... well, that's not exactly unlike life either!

And that leads to all sorts of interesting conversations about information and language and culture and technology - about how they connect us, but how they can also misinform us. Several libraries (notably, often those with younger players) have reported that they have capitalised on the game in precisely this way, using the game as a prompt for talking about the important work that libraries do in not only gathering the words of the rest of the world but in curating them. But in an age where people talk with a straight face about libraries being superseded by Google, these are a pair of points that can be fruitfully teased out with old players as well.

Plus, of course, there are the epistemological questions that the game implicitly asks - it's pretty challenging to the notion of "received wisdom" when you look at it!

All this from just one simple game - and I'm only scratching the surface, in the interests of brevity... You can argue that I'm overthinking it, but as with literature, it's all there if you choose to see it - and it raises some very interesting and even profound topics.

Anyway! Time for the

Global Gossip Game Update

In short: I'm working on it. I'm just nailing down the last few timeslots, and then I'm hoping to have the instruction sheets and contact information out to everyone by the end of the week. Be warned, though - I'm presenting a panel at PAX Australia on Friday and then attending the rest of the weekend, so it might be early next week! If you want to see a preview of the rules for the day, you can do so here.

(The timeslots that are left are largely suited to Eastern Europe, Asia, Western Australia, and East Africa, if anyone in those areas missed out. And there's a little room at the end for Alaska/Hawaii etc. Anyone else... sorry! Next year... which looks like being awesome by the way...)

Till next time!

Game profile: RoboRally – emergence from procedure

Posted on September 22, 2014

Today's game profile is about a game whose greatest influence on the gaming world has been - or so it could be argued - the time it wasn't published.

In 1991, when Richard Garfield met Peter Adkison (president of Wizards of the Coast) to pitch a game, it wasn't Magic: the Gathering he was there to pitch - it was RoboRally. At the time, Wizards of the Coast focused primarily on roleplaying games, and therefore wasn't all that comfortable (or familiar) with the manufacture, assembly, and sale of tabletop games - so they turned Garfield's pitch down. However, Adkison recognised Garfield's talent and asked him if he had anything a little more printing-friendly and portable. No problem, said Garfield, there was something he had been tinkering with - and he went away, polished up the design of M:tG over the weekend, came back, and birthed an entire medium, the trading card game... thereby boosting WotC into one of the premier publishers of fantasy games - or fantasy in any medium - in the world. In 1994, flush with funds from Magic's success, they published RoboRally to considerable acclaim.

So what was this game that a game design genius considered more saleable than one of the most lucrative game ideas of all time? (I say this without irony - I doubt anybody could have predicted the explosive success of Magic, and RoboRally genuinely is both deeply interesting and terrifically engaging. Even so, I'm being slightly unfair - RoboRally was of course fully developed, whereas Magic clearly wasn't fully fleshed out quite yet - possibly BECAUSE it was so ambitious!)

RoboRally is a game about supercomputers created to control precision robots in a widget factory who get bored during some downtime; to amuse themselves, these genius-level intellects race welding robots through an obstacle course/demolition derby.

You play by drawing a pool of cards that you then use to program 5 steps that you'll take to move around a grid. The steps are simple movement commands: move forward 1-3 squares, back up one, turn left or right 90 degrees, or about-turn. (So far, this sounds pretty familiar to anyone whose childhood included programming in Logo.) You use this movement to attempt to reach a series of checkpoints on the map in order.

There are three catches.

  • First, you are in a factory, with conveyor belts, rotating platforms, and welding lasers. Each time the players move, depending on where they land, they might get moved along, spun 90 degrees, or zapped.
  • Second, it's not enough to stay away from the fixed lasers. Each robot has a head-mounted welding laser that fires after each move. If you're in front of another robot, and there's nothing in the way, you're going to get zapped.
  • Third, your opponents are also trying to move around in the same space, and in particular to reach the same squares as you. There isn't that much room in the factory, and as the number of players goes up, so does the amount of pushing and shoving as robots bump into each other and knock each other off target.

Each time you get zapped, it fries one of your memory slots - which is reflected mechanically by the number of cards you get to draw into your pool. You start out drawing 9 cards a turn, out of which you have to choose a sequence of 5, which gives you decent odds of being able to get where you want to go. However, as you take more damage and get to draw fewer and fewer cards, your options narrow... and once you are drawing fewer than 5 cards, the last card in each damaged slot in the sequence gets stuck there, forcing you to mindlessly repeat that action in that slot every turn. (There are ways to repair slots and reboot yourself - but all cost precious time and risk letting your opponents gain ground in the race.)

As with many other games I love (e.g. Hanabi), the core objective of the game is a relatively simple procedure (in this case, navigate from A to B to C to D) made complex by the presence and actions of other players. The factory itself also complicates things, but conveyor belts and rotators can be a resource if you plan ahead - they can save you movement or help face you in the right direction. (Lasers and pits are never helpful, however.) But when other players enter the mix, even a perfectly-planned route can suddenly take you wildly off course if you are accidentally (or intentionally) bumped one square left of where you were planning to go - if that takes you onto a conveyor belt that shifts you two squares left and leaves you facing south instead of east, the remainder of your perfectly-planned route will play out in the wrong direction and give you an entirely unexpected path to calculate next turn to get back to where you want to be.

Thus, you have to try to take into account where you think others will try to go - and what you think they will try to do about your movement. (There is tremendous satisfaction in spotting the evil gleam in someone's eye as they plot to knock you off your path, deliberately hold back your movement to ensure they miss, and then watching them whiz past in front of you and careen away, victims of their own cunning.)

The obvious extrinsic value of the game, the simplistic modelling of computer programming, is actually more deeply simulated here, in this business of attempting to think through contingencies and anticipate likely interactions with other elements of the system, and then plot out future actions accordingly. It showcases beautifully how even the simplest systems can, through nothing more than interaction with other equally simple systems, become deep, surprising, and interesting.

Add into this the business of reading beyond those other game objects to the players controlling them, and you have the basis for some genuinely compelling brainwork.

It helps that the robot tokens that you control each have their own cute - and silly - personalities [note that these images are of the figures from the 1994 edition of the game]. There is no mechanical difference between them, but I have still seen players get particularly attached to one or the other; they give younger players a point of identification to latch onto the game, and older players the basis for a touch of banter.

The procedural basis of the game also lends itself to reproduction in other forms of technology - one of the most ingenious game-related creations I have seen was an implementation of the game in LEGO Mindstorms at Gen Con 2011, which not only had a LEGO game board and LEGO Mindstorms-driven robots, but used Mindstorms robotics to scan and interpret the cards (which I believe were also made of LEGO) that players drew.

I'll leave you with some pictures (possibly as inspiration for your library's LEGO/robotics club). Enjoy!

LEGO RoboRally - board
A wide shot of the board - sadly in low resolution.

LEGO RoboRally - control system
A (slightly blurry) shot of the control system. Note the conveyor belt (on the left) feeding the "cards" into the reader.

LEGO RoboRally - robots 1
A closeup on half of the robots (note that some of the base characters have been replaced with slightly more famous robots/droids/Androids)...

LEGO RoboRally - robots 2
...and the other half.

LEGO RoboRally - sign & QR code
The sign for the game (also made of LEGO) - click on it to go to the creators' site. (Their Monster Chess is also pretty impressive!)


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