International Games Week October 29 – November 4

International Games Week

Game Profile: Qwirkle

Posted on August 25, 2014

The prolific Hannah Tracy is back again! She brings us another profile of a game that works well for audiences of all ages, such as those likely to attend your International Games Day event... 

Qwirkle is a board game created by MindWare which has won numerous awards. It is designed for two to four players and play time is usually about a half hour to forty-five minutes.  I like to describe it as sudoku meets dominoes meets Scrabble.

The game is made up of 108 wooden blocks with a color and a shape on each. Each tile is one of six different shapes in one of six color options (so 36 different possibilities, and 3 copies of each).

To play, each player builds in a Scrabble-style grid off what is already on the board, to make lines of either matching shape or color. So it might be six squares, all of different colors; or one of each shape, all in the color blue. Each block that is added to a line scores points, and if they can make a complete line it is called a qwirkle and scores an extra 6 points. The player at the end of the game with the most points wins. For a fuller description of the rules, and to see some actual game play, check out the TableTop episode.

This game has become a favorite at my library. It is easy to pick up, and is pretty quick to play, so it is easy to squeeze in a game at the end of the day before I have to kick all the teens out. The actual play is pretty basic, but the strategy can become quite involved. There are any number of choices you can make each turn and you need to decide which will benefit you the most. But you are not playing in a vacuum - other players’ decisions will affect what you will be able to do. You can even specifically make moves that will block or stop another player from being able to make a good move. This leads to much yelling in both triumph and frustration. The game is simple enough for children and offers enough complex options for the strategy-minded player. One of my favorite parts is simply getting to shout “Qwirkle!” really loudly every time I complete a line.

I have also become a big fan of the travel edition, which plays exactly the same and comes in a nifty little pouch which is just the right size for Qwirkle plus a deck of cards or Fluxx.

Sponsor Profile: Looney Labs

Posted on August 21, 2014

Hi everyone! Time for another sponsor profile - this time of Looney Labs - from our volunteer Hannah Tracy, in which she discusses their donations: exception-based card game Fluxx, and deceptively simple strategy game Pink Hijinks. She also flaunts her unusual Brain (in the form of the rare card pictured immediately below, of which I am terribly jealous), and tells us what happened when she took her brainy self into a game of Zombie Fluxx. (Dun dun DUN!)


Fluxx is a card game for 2-5 players (I have played with more but 5 is optimal). The game can last anywhere from a few minutes to about a half hour. Why such a varied length of time? Well, because the game of Fluxx is always changing.Andy Looney Fluxx card

At the beginning of the game, everyone is dealt 3 cards and the only rule is to draw one card and play one card on your turn. That is all there is to do until someone plays a new rule card which could allow you to play two cards a turn or limit the amount of card in your hand to one or a variety of other options. If a new rule contradicts a current rule, the new rule replaces the old one. If a new rule does not contradict a current rule, it is added on to the list of rules in play. OK, that may sound complicated, but the changing rules are the fun of the game.

Now how do you win? Well, that depends on which goal card is in play at the moment. So not only the rules but the goal of the game also changes. This is the basic concept of the game, there are a few other types of cards which can affect play and each has a description on the card itself of what you can do with it. For a fuller explanation HERE is the creator of Fluxx explaining the Family Fluxx edition, but really the best way to learn Fluxx is to just dive in.

Fluxx is one of my favorite games, it has tons of replayability, and so many fun versions, including Monty Python Fluxx and Oz Fluxx (which Looney Labs is donating for IGD!). I met my boyfriend over a game of Zombie Fluxx (he won, grr). It is not for everyone, the constant change can be difficult for people who like hard and fast rules. The teens in my library have had a tally sheet going for who has won the most games of Fluxx over the year. This could be a fun tournament style way to play Fluxx for IGD.

Fluxx board game

Fluxx the Board Game

Pink Hijinks

Looney Labs has been generous enough to donate not one but two games to IGD! The second game is Pink Hijinks, which uses Looney Labs' special Looney Pyramids.

Looney Pyramids

Looney Pyramids at Pax East 2014

The game is for two players and takes from 2-10 minutes, and showcases how incredibly simple rules - infused with a dash of randomness and filtered through an opponent's brain - can still produce a surprising level of emergent strategy.

The goal is either to get a line of pyramids all the same size on your side of the board, with no extras; or to get all the pyramids onto the other player's side of the board. You roll the die to see what size pyramid you will be able to move. The full ruleset can be seen here.

About Looney Labs

Andrew Looney is the primary game developer for the company. Both he and Kristen Looney, who runs the business side, have previously worked at NASA as well as other technology companies.

Looney Labs was founded in 1996 for the purpose of publishing Fluxx. The founders, Andrew and Kristen, had been working together on games since the late 1980s. They were also able to create easy-to-make versions of their pyramids, which can be used for hundreds of games - many of which are still being created. Looney Labs has since created a variety of fun and creative card, board, and pyramid games. Fluxx continues to be one of the most popular - there are now 9 different versions of Fluxx available, as well as expansions.

Monthly game profile for September: Exception-based rules, rules-play and nomic games

Posted on September 26, 2013

Hi everyone! This month we're looking at games where you play the game by messing with the rules: games with exception-based rules.

This superficially sounds like a contradiction - aren't games defined by their rules, and isn't messing with them cheating? But in fact this is precisely the charm of these sorts of games: you get to shift the ground under yourself and your opponent as well as maneuvering the pieces over that ground.

(The rise in computer coding - itself a business of establishing rules that produce desired outcomes - and other careers in procedure-based design is almost certainly a key influence here. Games with fixed rules still have their charm, but for people used to creating rules it was inevitable that this would become a key locus of play.)

Exception-based rulesets are those where there is a general framework that applies unless some rules element says otherwise, with the specific overruling the general. (For instance, under the normal rules of a game, as a disincentive against drawing too many cards too quickly you might lose if you are required to draw a card but have none left to draw. However, if you have previously played a card that changes this rule and causes you to win in this situation instead, you might actively seek to empty your deck as fast as possible - regardless of your ability to play any of the cards.)

Perhaps the simplest of these games is a little card game called Fluxx. At the start of the game there is only one rule: on your turn, you draw a card and you play a card. Yes, if you're paying attention, that's correct - there is in fact not even a way to win the game. That comes with play.

The cards you play are of 4 types - Keepers, which are unique named cards that sit in front of you until something causes them to be moved or discarded; Actions, which have an effect and are then discarded; Goals, which establish victory conditions (such as "have these two specific Keepers in front of you", "have this many cards in hand", "have this Keeper and not that one" and so on) and cause previous Goals to be discarded; and Rules, which change some aspect of the game - such as turn order, how many cards to draw or play, and more.

What this means in effect is that both the objective of the game and the rules by which you seek to achieve it are subject to constant manipulation by your opponents - and, of course, you. It sounds complex, but in fact after a single playthrough or two you will have the hang of it and will be gleefully stealing your opponents' Keepers, swapping your hand of zero cards for their hand of five, and changing the Goal just before your opponent matches its conditions and wins the game.

It also, when you reflect upon it, teaches some interesting lessons about opportunities and information, but I'll leave that discussion for another time (or maybe the comments).

This is the most basic form of rules-play, but there are many other examples. Calvinball is of course worth mentioning in this regard (among others; Calvinball is often worth mentioning). Then you have the games Nomic, and (for those wanting to test their deductive reasoning) Mao... but perhaps the best-known games of this type are the entire new genre they enabled, the collectible card game, or CCG.

The CCG genre was first originated by mathematician Richard Garfield with his 1993 game Magic: the Gathering, which celebrates its 20th birthday this year and currently has somewhere over 12,000 different cards (and is also Turing-complete, meaning that with the correct arrangement of cards and gamestate you can simulate the logic governing the functioning of a Turing machine, aka a computer). Our sponsor for this year, Yu-Gi-Oh!, is one of the more popular entrants into this field, running regular local and international tournaments - an upcoming guest post will discuss one library's experience of hosting Yu-Gi-Oh! play.

CCGs are especially predisposed to exception-based rules and rules-play, because the nature of the medium (cards, easily printed with rules text; sold in randomised boosters, conferring little ability to predict which cards a player might receive) means that the best place to explain how each card affects the game is on the card itself. Many times the card will simply perform standard operations within existing rules frameworks, negatively affecting your opponent or improving your own position, but when the rules are on the card it's possible for them to overwrite the standard rules, so that for instance you might have a card that prevents your opponent from taking certain actions, or doubles the effect of some of your own actions, or even means you can't lose until it's removed from play.  The ability to change the normal rules of play also prolongs the life of the game, because it allows you to add new rules elements in addition to printing variants within existing rules.

All this, combined with the possibility of prize money worth thousands and international competition, and the evolving backstory created to support (and be told on the cards of) the new sets, makes CCGs a potentially endlessly absorbing hobby. Their susceptibility to theft and damage makes them difficult for libraries to hold in our collections, but they can form the basis of terrific programs with a great deal of fun to be had in the library. They are also terrific for developing not only traditional numeracy (since most games require basic number-juggling) and literacy (since you have to read the cards), they also give players incentives to read more traditional forms of tie-in fiction. And lastly, they foster the ability to process basic procedural logic and the ability to read systems - a topic we'll discuss further in a couple of weeks.


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