by David McD in Game Criticism
Over the past week I got a rare opportunity: a chance to play a top-rated board game with its designer — learning from the man who made it. I refer to the critically acclaimed Cold War simulation Twilight Struggle, and one of its two designers, Ananda Gupta. Ananda is a senior game designer here at Firaxis, and yet in time I’ve known him I only recently discovered that Twilight Struggle was his credit. That just goes to show how little I follow nondigital designers these days, considering the game has retained a choice spot in BoardGameGeek’s “The Hotness” list for what seems like forever. It was a classic case of “Oh, that game! I’ve heard of that, and I’ve been meaning to get around to playing it…” until I found out it was Ananda’s, and then the opportunity was obviously too good to pass up.
Here is a gameplay video of our 2011 Rosetta Stone Game Jam entry, Notan. For an explanation of the game and what is going on here, see the two previous posts on the making of this game: The Baltimore Eulers at the 2011 Rosetta Stone Game Jam Part I and Part II.
Visit Rosetta Stone’s Careers page on Facebook for all kinds of good things, including photos and video interviews with all the teams.
This year, I, along with teammates William Miller and Jack Cooke, returned to the second annual Rosetta Stone Game Jam to try to win back-to-back 1st Place titles. This is the story of what happened (continued from Part I).
The sun is beginning to set outside as we pass the half-way point of competition hours. Setting aside six hours the night previous for sleep was a calculated maneuver to preserve high functioning, but with fifteen hours to go we need to make that count. Most of the big work is done. Will has written a fully functional 2D game engine in C in about as much time as it takes a normal person to run their weekly errands. But we have little time yet to appreciate the magnitude of that accomplishment as all our focus is trained on the work remaining.
7pm Saturday (-14 hours): Dinner break. Rosetta Stone caters three meals on Saturday and takes the whole competition out for banquet meals Friday evening and Sunday morning. While lunch was a more lively affair, dinner is somewhat austere. Competitors arrive haphazardly and do not linger, gathering food to take back to their work rooms. It has been some hours since we spoke with anyone not on our team, and sightings of fellow participants in the halls are getting rarer. The whole building is quieter, too.
Back in our room, I am completing the level tuning. Will is arm-deep in OpenGL, trying to separate the map data into separate render targets and passes so he can blend between them. He’s begun muttering to himself — talking himself through the tedious process and the bugs that are arising. We’re approaching the threshold beyond which fatigue will begin to inhibit the ability to remain in the abstract frame of mind necessary to program. For the first time, we begin to feel the hours we have left.
11pm Saturday (-10 hours): Not long ago Jack went down for a brief nap, hoping to take the edge off the headache that’s been building since midday. I’ve copied over all the latest assets from him and I am decorating and trimming the levels with the final art. It’s a good task for nighttime — mostly mindless, and mistakes are easy to spot. It’s been a while since any of us needed to speak to each other. We awoke at a reasonable hour today, but adrenaline levels have been high with the excitement of the event, and now we’re beginning to feel the effects of prolonged exposure. Small irritations are starting to become noticeable, and the quality of light and heat in the room begins to feel incorrect. We stay quiet, and work.
3am Sunday (-6 hours): The levels are done. Jack recovered, made a swath of new decoration sprites and a few re-dos at my request, then went down for another nap. Will has succeeded in getting the rendering system to display layers exclusively and recognize transition, but he’s blocked trying to get the ink blot texture to display properly and cause the renderers to swap with the mouse and the camera moving around it. Now trudging through sound effects and music I am largely oblivious, but I am aware that both of us are low on cognitive resources. We aren’t panicking yet, but we realize that if the game is going to work with all the systems in place by 9am, it could mean a death march.
6am Sunday (-3 hours): “Winning time.” The final stretch when everything either comes together or all is lost. The margin could not be thinner: the one mechanic we need, the one system that ties the whole game together and makes it unique and interesting, is the ink blot. And with mere hours remaining, after hours spent in dogged, wretched struggle with an obtuse system and his own weakening constitution, Will states aloud, “I don’t know if I’m going to get it.”
Having completed the level work and finished linking in sound, I’ve been brooding and pacing about for some time. My faith has not wavered until I hear this, like an icy chill. Will pledges to keep trying, and with no recourse I busy myself helping Jack make last-minute polish passes and setting up a credits screen. Finally, at loose ends, I’m looking over Will’s shoulder as he works through the bug. Every step seems to make sense, but it’s so hard for us to tell any more. We both seem only dimly aware of the code changes being made and the formulas being rearranged. Suddenly, a breakthrough — the blot renders the transition, but it looks burnt out, like someone picked the wrong blending mode in Photoshop. I realize the problem almost at the same moment Will finds the solution… invert the ink blot from black on transparency to white on transparency… and it works.
We both sag into our chairs, with a slow high five and a grin.
8am Sunday (-1 hour): Working with a new frenzy thanks to a fresh rush of endorphins from the breakthrough, we’ve managed to tie in the credits screen to a newly-made ending level, and we’ve tossed in some level-hopping cheats. We need to make sure that if we fail to play our own game well enough to advance, we can still show off all the levels. A few last-minute updates to the tileset from Jack go in, and Will makes a clean build to test on Jack’s laptop. Both of us are shaking badly enough that moving the mouse and typing require concentration. We get a last little heart attack as Jack’s computer appears to fail to recognize mouse input, breaking the ink blot mechanic, but it turns out his Command key was stuck down. Shaking with fatigue and adrenaline withdrawal, we move the files onto the provided jump drives and walk with nervous relief up to the reception desk at Rosetta Stone to hand it in.
I can recall little of what happened between then and the judging. We lounged about on couches until it was time to go to the restaurant, and then we enjoyed the presentations until it was time to give ours. Ten minutes is only just enough time, and as the speech-giver I found it hard to keep my sentences clear and descriptive after twenty-six hours awake. I managed to convey our central ideas, our creative choices and process, while Will played it on the projector behind me. People paid attention well, and they asked thoughtful questions about things like multiplayer options, the range of replayability in the game, and expansions to the ink blot mechanic. When our time was up I felt I could have said it better, but people came up to us continuously to comment that they thought it was excellent and that we had presented it well.
By this point, we had resigned ourself to the prospect of an average finish, and found to our pleasure that we felt good about that. The magnitude of what we had undertaken, especially compared to our work the previous year, reinforced that we had done ourselves proud, whatever the judges might say. We were all enamored of our idea and pleased with the results given the time frame. The C engine alone was a stunning achievement — even the Rosetta Stone code reviewers seemed hesitant to believe Will had written it all in a day and a half. And by this point, even one person coming up to us to say he thought the game was brilliant would have been enough.
However, we did get a little more 2nd Place proved to everyone that last year’s victory was not a fluke, and that we were a top tier team capable of standing up with the best that two years of jams could muster. More than anything, the jam gave us a renewed feeling of worth, a confidence in our ability as game craftsmen. If any thought could sum up the experience of finishing a game jam like this (let alone winning a prize), it would be “if we can do something like that, in this place and under these extraordinary circumstances, what could we go and do next?”
Beginning last year, the famous language software company Rosetta Stone, based in Harrisonburg, VA, decided to host a game jam. A game jam is a contest or competitive event involving teams wherein participants endeavor to build a video game from scratch within a short time frame. Most game jams are done in two days or less, and most are competitive in the sense that they are adjudicated and the teams and projects are ranked, with prizes going to the top performers. Most game jams are themed as well, requiring participants to make a game that conforms to a few specific ideas rather than letting them make whatever they wish. Most game jams do this to get more innovative results, but also as part of ensuring that the games are completely created on-site — including the design.
Rosetta Stone’s first jam, in 2010, stipulated teams of one to four persons and a thirty-six hour time frame, from 9pm on Friday to 9am on Sunday. The theme was given out ahead of time: “Make a game that teaches.” That jam was a great success with ten teams participating. The team we brought — myself, William Miller, and Jack Cooke — emerged the winner with our game about viruses in the human body. It was such a positive and inspiring experience that we resolved immediately to return the following year. 2011 came, and a new jam was on. This is the story of what happened.
The format for the 2011 jam was nearly identical to 2010. Rosetta Stone narrowed the team sizes to two to three persons. They also cast a wider net, drawing over forty applications. Eleven teams were selected to attend, divided into professional and student divisions. Prizes would go to the top two teams from each division. They also concealed the theme until Friday evening just before the go-hour. Several weeks before, each team was invited to submit three nouns that could be themes for the games. Rosetta Stone picked three from this pool, and revealed them just before we began. The chosen themes were “Exploration,” “Layers,” and “Ink.” Much head scratching and smirking ensued. Undaunted, we broke to our designated areas and got to work.
9pm Friday (-36 Hours): With a design to bang out, we arrayed ourselves in front of the whiteboard and started tossing around ideas. “Exploration” was a throw-away theme — virtually every game involves some kind of exploration, and any idea that seemed to lack it could be modified to include it with minimal alteration. “Layers” was likewise less compelling, being broad and open enough to interpretation that we were confident it would fold naturally into any design we chose to make. “Ink” was by far the trickiest and tastiest prompt. Ink as writing or language was obvious, but probably too obvious, and language games are risky. We jokingly tossed out ideas about squid, but quickly let those go as lame and unoriginal (this turned out to be prophetic as at least four other teams made games involving either a squid or an octopus). A rare connection between the term “ink” and tattooing came up, but presented no game mechanics. Similarly, thoughts on brush and ink painting, such as sumi-e, seemed compelling but revealed no game. The discussion grew more abstract until we hit upon the idea of taking a symbolic cue from “ink,” i.e. ink as a symbol for permanence. “Written in ink” is an idiom signifying something is certain and immutable. Ink is held to be the opposite of pencil as it cannot be erased. Running with the idea of permanence and impermanence and returning to a premise based on sumi-e, we blocked out the game:
- The player would be an ink painter or calligrapher, of Asian stylings.
- Their task would be to traverse some terrain. We took inspiration from sumi-e paintings and chose a mountain, using traditional platformer mechanics.
- The player would have a secondary ability to use ink to paint permanence or impermanence into the terrain. Their brush would add or subtract from the world and reveal the path for their character to take.
- Finishing off the Asian theme, they would be able to paint in a heavenly world that lay overlaid onto the mundane world. The mountain would be one reality, done in cool tones, and the heavens would be the layered reality done in warm tones. Painting with ink would hide one and reveal the other wherever it was used.
Game design done! Time to get to work.
10:30 pm Friday: We scoped it to three levels, generated an asset list, and chose a custom implementation done in C as the engine of choice. Will felt confident he could create a tile-based platformer engine within a day, and I agreed to let him. Jack began cranking on the asset list, starting with mood paintings to establish the color schemes before beginning on the two tilesets we would use to build the levels. Prevented from doing hard coding while Will was laying in the engine’s foundations, I planned out the three levels and the layered realities that would make up the player’s platforming experience. These were drawn on the whiteboard for everyone to comment on, and when they were agreed to I began blocking them out using our level editor tool, a free tile-based map designer called Tiled.
11:30pm Friday (-34 hours): With the backbone of the system in place on his Mac, Will diverted to helping me set up a Windows build on my laptop so we could work in parallel. We set up version control using Git and asset sharing using Dropbox. With Jack nearing completion of the basic 9-slice tiles for both colors, we cleared up a few ancillary logistics tasks and packed up for the hotel.
During the 2010 jam, the guys pretty much let me run the show in terms of priorities and schedule. A “schedule” for three people over a day and a half is a misnomer, but I did recommend that we try to sleep on the first night and plan to work through the second, rather than the other way around. We bunked in the hotel from midnight to 6am, returning to the site in time for breakfast. That proved to be an perfect use of the time, keeping energy levels high and ensuring that our subconscious minds had a couple REM cycles to crack the tough problems we were likely to face during the dev-heavy day. It was down to the wire getting it all done, but we scoped well and everyone agreed the modest night’s sleep was invaluable. Back for the 2011 jam, we saw no reason to change a winning strategy. We bundled off to the hotel shortly after midnight with alarms set for 6.
7am Saturday (-26 hours): Up in time to pack up and get some breakfast courtesy of Rosetta Stone, and we’re back at it. Will is moving into the core systems including physics, sound, and animation. Jack rolls back into the tilesets.
12pm Saturday (-21 hours): Lunchtime. Jack is done with the foreground tiles and is animating the main character. As the systems come online and the codebase is robust enough to support higher level dev, I get into the action and start on the character controller. We have two core systems that make the game: the character and his platforming movement, and the tile swapping ink blot. Will is on the ink, I’m on the character. Once I’ve got him moving and jumping and steering right, I can toss him into the levels and start tightening them up. I have to predict what will be fun or challenging to move through without the tile swapping system in place, so the levels end up being built full of holes and deliberately cramped and awkward. I’m counting on the two layers not being visible and colliding with the character at the same time to keep movement smooth. Will has rolled into the collision generation and re-generation based on the ink blot. A funny moment ensues: he’s trying to imagine a way to recalculate the world collision areas when you click the mouse and turn a collection of tiles on or off. He’s been going back on forth on ways to do this piecemeal, working only on the selected tiles. After listening to him for a while, I say, “why don’t you just recalculate the whole map?” He begins to protest that that could be a performance nightmare when he realizes that, with a relatively small number of square collision tiles in each map, it really wouldn’t be. He writes it; it works perfectly.
4pm Saturday (-17 hours): The character controller and level objects are complete and I am remaking the maps — the character can’t make all the jumps I thought he could make, and I need to rearrange large portions of each level. Will has moved on into working out the visibility blending via the ink blot texture. Jack is working on decorations and background tiles, and nursing a headache. We found out when we arrived the day before that he had his wisdom teeth taken out earlier in the week. He’s still on Vicodin and is trying to ration it to keep himself pain free without risking getting loopy or damaging his liver.
Outside the sun begins to go down as the final night comes on. We’ve used about half of the time we’ve got. From here, things look good — we only need to finish the visibility swapping mechanic and tie it in, toss in some music and sound, and take one more beauty pass over the levels.We don’t know it yet, but this will prove to be a far hairier endeavor than we expect, and will take our game’s completion and the lynchpin of the whole idea down to the wire — literally within sight of the end.
Continued in Part II.
Last year at the first annual Rosetta Stone Game Jam, I went to compete with William Miller and Jack Cooke. It’s was a thirty-six hour competition with a simple theme – “make a game that teaches something” and our project about viruses mutating and invading a human body, called Pathogen, won 1st place.[View a post-mortem on the win at Will's blog here]
This year we returned to the 2011 Jam eager to defend our title. The jam was revised somewhat, dividing the eleven competing teams into student and professional divisions and drawing their entrants from a much wider and more capable pool of applicants. The projects and participants were more sophisticated and interesting, and their games better crafted, than last year by far. It was truly a challenge among peers, a real competition. And as the judges ruled, we were honored with 2nd Place in the pro division.
Describing the competition as several steps up the tiers than the 2010 jam may sound like an excuse, but I assure you: it was a terrific jam and a tight competition. There were creative and well-executed games from many parties, many games that impressed me and challenged any notion of supremacy lingering from last year’s win. And the project we made — a puzzle-platformer with malleable reality called “Notan” — was a giant of a triumph for the three of us. It represented truly heroic effort from Will and Jack, who in twenty-nine hours along with me accomplished more than we had ever thought possible in such a span of time. We are all immeasurably proud of our result, and not at all perturbed with the almost-victory. The rewards for 2nd are swanky enough to please anyone, anyway!
During the next week I intend to write a complete retrospective or post-mortem of our experience at the jam. As I have now been awake for thirty-six hours, I’ll wait to start that until tomorrow. “Notan” will also be up online somewhere, soon, for playing. Watch for links to that.
by David McD in Game Criticism
During the Christmas holidays this year, this new title from Mayfair Games was among the additions to our family repertoire. With characteristics similar to Scotland Yard, it’s a quick and funny game I consider superior to the famous detective game. Suitable for all ages and capable of supporting a large number of players, Nuns on the Run is a game I would recommend for any casual board game collector.
The dominant mechanic in the game focuses on sneaking — always a trick in a board game, where every player’s actions take place mere inches from each their fellows. As in Scotland Yard, the board is marked with paths and numbered intersections, and players record their moves in secret on a slip of paper, noting their movement distance and the number of their destination spot. The ultimate aim of each novice is to secure a key from somewhere in the abbey, take it elsewhere in the abbey to unlock the acquisition of their “secret wish,” and then make it back to their cell — all while avoiding capture.
However, unlike Scotland Yard, the roles of sneaker and seeker are inverted: all the players play novices scampering through the sleeping convent, while one takes the role of the hunter and controls the Abbess and Prioress characters, who in concert attempt to find out and catch the wayward novices. Thus, each turn consists of a table-wide covert movement by the novices, followed by the overt and obvious movement of the nuns. This systemized hide-and-seek ensures that every turn is exciting and nerve-wracking, even if you think your novice is safely ensconced in an alcove or a broom cupboard and can’t be seen or heard.
The convent is big and maze-like enough that it would seem a safe path could always be had, but there are twists to the movement mechanic. Foremost is the idea of speed and sound — a novice who runs can get further away but is more likely to be “heard” by the Abbess / Prioress, whereas taking it slow or even standing still will not produce much progress but is a much safer guard against attracting attention. The movement of Abbess and Prioress, on the other hand, is predictable: they begin with a set of paths and target spots they travel, like a night watchman’s circuit, known and understood by all. They will also always walk, keeping a regular speed. However, if one of the novices makes too much noise (as mentioned above) or if they stray into the sight line of one of the adults, the Abbess or Prioress can divert immediately from their route and take off running in the direction of their suspicion, and their controlling player has complete control to path them wherever he wishes as long as continues to uncover sensory evidence of the naughty novices. Whenever this occurs, it’s a mad scramble to avoid the rampage — in my game, one careless novice forced three others to dive behind walls and hide in bushes for several turns while the Abbess tramped up and down before losing the scent and returning to her path. It could easily have cost us the game, if the same thing had not occurred a few turns later with the Prioress on the other side of the abbey!
In contrast to Scotland Yard, which is a much more systematic, collaborative process of analysis and zone defense, the movement of the novices in Nuns on the Run is purely individual and, for the most part, completely opaque to everyone else including the other novices. This makes each turn more anxious and often hilarious, but suffers from a lack of novice-to-novice interaction. Two novices could literally be standing on the same spot or following the same path, and their controlling players would have no idea unless spooked by the Abbess or Prioress. This prevents players from playing off each other, hiding in each other’s “radar shadow” or deliberately alerting the adults in an attempt to get another novice nabbed. Each player’s midnight run takes place in a vacuum, for the most part, and it can be disappointing to be playing along and simply discover, as if from nowhere, that another play has won.
Trust also plays a big role in the prosecution of victory, as the validity of a path can only be verified once a player has claimed a win. And even if the players are well-intentioned, mistakes can happen particularly with younger players. Nevertheless, the game does not require such rigid precision that a misstep or two would ruin the session.
Even after one play-through, I was deeply impressed by the balance and tension of the game, and by how cleanly it remained engaging throughout. The constant threat of discovery, combined with the time pressure to be the first home with little or no knowledge of the plans of the progress of one’s competitors, made for a speedy and exciting game. Having played Scotland Yard a number of times I was familiar with the idea of recording secret moves, but the inversion of the hunter/prey roles made for a more madcap and amusing experience. And it scales elegantly, often becoming more difficult and exciting with more players, and a higher density of novices in the abbey means more chances for the Abbess / Prioress to see or hear someone and abandon their plotted course.
In short, Nuns on the Run is a delightful game, one I intend to add to my library without delay. I heartily recommend it to all, particularly those with children or otherwise mixed groups of players.
Introduction: In this speedy game of international globetrotting, players race around the planet to be the first the visit the hottest ten destinations and make it back home without running out of money or into trouble.
- One six-sided die per player, plus one extra die held in common
- Pawns or tokens to represent each player
- Pencils and papers for each player, for scorekeeping
Setting Up: All players first discuss and choose ten real-world locations for use during the game as Destinations. Major US or worldwide cities are recommended. Record these on a piece of paper in large, bold lettering and place it where all players can see it. Once the destinations are chosen, each player chooses one of the ten cities to be their Home Town, and records that secretly on their scoresheet.
How to Play: The goal of each player is to be the first to visit all the destinations and return to their home town. The game consists of rounds that have the following sequence:
- Assign Flight Risks to the Destinations
- Purchase Tickets
Phase 1: Assign Flight Risks: At the start of this phase, designate a player to roll the common die for each destination city. The number rolled represents that city’s Cost of Entry, in thousands of dollars. If a six is rolled for any city, roll again and add the second result to get that city’s cost of entry. If a one is rolled for any city, that city is Grounded, and no player may enter or leave the city by plane for the rest of the round.
Phase 2: Purchase Tickets: At the start of this phase, players roll their own die: the value shown is the amount of money they gain that turn, in thousands of dollars. Players may then spend as much of their money as they wish on as many tickets as they like. The player records each ticket bought in the order in which they wish to travel, secretly, on their scoresheet. During the Fly! phase, their movements will be revealed in the order they choose here. Players may also choose not to purchase tickets and hold over their money for use in later rounds. There is no limit to how much money may be saved from round to round.
Phase 3: Fly! During this phase, players reveal their ticket choices simultaneously, one destination at a time. After each reveal, players move their pawns onto the name of destination city they have just revealed. Under ordinary circumstances, players simply move from destination to destination according to the sequence of their bought tickets. However, under some circumstances more actions are possible:
Waylaying: If two players have flown to the same city at the same time, both have the option of Waylaying the other on their way out of town. Before the next reveal occurs, the player crosses out the next ticket on their list and writes “waylay” instead, followed by the name of the player they are targeting. A player may also add a waylay action to the end of their list if they have no more tickets lined up for the current round, but they may only add to the end in this way once per round. Upon the next reveal, the player announces they are waylaying their target: the targeted player is held in the city and the ticket they revealed is lost. The waylaying player also remains in the city, sacrificing the ticket they would have revealed to enact the waylay. Any combination of waylays may be declared among players in the same city, but no matter how many times a player is waylaid they lose only the current round’s ticket.
Overland: A player who finds themselves in a grounded city may escape by traveling Overland, or by ground transportation. At the time of their ticket reveal, a player may declare they are attempting to travel this way. The player rolls the die — if they can immediately pay the showing amount in thousands from their supply of money, they may move to the destination as if they were flying like normal. Players travelling overland cannot be waylaid.
Once flight tickets, overland travel, and waylays have been resolved and players pawns have been moved or held as appropriate, destination revealing continues until all players have revealed all the tickets they purchased. And unusable tickets are lost and the money spent to acquire them is not recovered.
Winning the Game: Each new destination a player visits earns them a check mark on their scoresheet. Once a player has visited all ten destinations, they must make their way back to their home town. Note that a player’s home town may not be the last city they visit to win the game. The player must travel from another city to their home town after collecting their tenth checkmark for the win to count. At the moment a player has successfully travelled back to their home town and revealed their scorecard to verify that it is their home, they win the game.
Introduction: In this hectic game of duck and weave, players race to escape a crippled, labyrinthine space station before it collapses around them.
- Some number of cups or bowls, recommended one per player with two extra. Fewer bowls usually means a harder game.
- Pawns or tokens to represent each player.
- A generous quantity of identically-shaped, multicolored candies (such as M&Ms or Skittles) to use as counters. A 1 lb. bag is usually sufficient for a 3-4 player game.
Setting Up: Place the bowls in a grid orientation in the center of the table. Any grid configuration may be used, but symmetrical or even-sided grids produce the most balanced games. Players then take turns to choose a bowl in which to place their token — only one player may occupy a bowl at the start of the game. Once all the tokens are placed, players again take turns to blindly draw two candies from the bag to place in their bowl. Designate a player to choose candies to place in any unoccupied bowls. Designate a first player, play proceeds to the left.
How to Play: All the cups or bowls represent chambers, connected together they to compose the Station on which the players are trapped. Each turn, players attempt to contain the disasters emerging in the station and secure one of the chambers long enough to escape. On their turn, players take actions in the following sequence:
- Danger: the player adds to the problems aboard the station.
- Reaction: the player makes a move and an action to contain the problems and/or escape the station.
Danger Phase: During this step, the player draws two counters from the bag and places each one in any of the available bowls on the table. Counters have effects for each bowl according to their color:
- Yellow: Toxic Gas — players in this chamber must eliminate all counters of this type within one turn or immediately leave the chamber.
- Red: Hull Breach — players in this chamber cannot leave while any counters of this type remain. These trump Toxic Gas counters when determining if players can or must leave the chamber.
- Green: Chemical Spill — when eliminated, these are moved to an adjacent chamber instead. Only remove Chemical Spill counters from play when they are moved to chamber with a Hull Breach.
- Blue: Electrical Overload — players entering this chamber may not make an elimination action on the turn they arrive. If a Chemical Spill counter is also present and there is not currently a Fire counter present, replace the pair of green and blue counters with a single Fire counter.
- Orange: Fire — all players must immediately leave the chamber and may not re-enter while the Fire counter remains unless there is also a Hull Breach counter present.
If counters of other colors are present, they are considered neutral and have no effect when drawn. For harder games, eliminate neutral colors from the bag before beginning play.
Reaction Phase: During this step, the player may move their pawn to any adjacent chamber (assuming the conditions in that chamber allow movement) and may take one elimination action: the player selects any of the counters in the chamber and removes it from play. A player may elect to pass either or both of these options. If a conflict arises between a player being forced to exit a chamber and there being no adjacent chambers where movement in is allowed, the forced exit takes precedence. If a chamber has been isolated (all adjacent chambers have collapsed or been jettisoned), ignore all forced exit effects in that chamber.
Chamber Collapse: If any chamber ever gains one counter of every color, or the chamber gains more than ten counters in total, it collapses and is immediately removed from play. Any player pawns inside the chamber are killed and returned to the relevant player. However, these players still take their turns to draw new counters and add them to the remaining bowls in play.
Escaping the Station: If at any point one of the bowls is completely empty of counters, any player with an available action may use it to jettison the chamber. Return any player pawns in the chamber to the relevant player, and then remove the bowl from play. These players have escaped and no longer make moves or elimination actions on the station. However, these players still take their turns to draw new counters and add them to the remaining bowls in play.
Winning the Game: All players who escape the station in a jettisoned chamber have won the game, and any players killed in a collapsing chamber have lost the game.
Introduction: Power to the weak! In this game of resource “acquisition,” the players with the fewest dice hold the greatest strength.
- Six-sided dice, five to ten per player. Feel free to adjust the quantity to adjust difficulty.
- Decks of standard playing cards, enough to provide a complete suit of thirteen to each player.
Setting Up: Distribute all the dice in equal quantities to each player. Each player then takes a complete suit of thirteen cards (Ace through King) from one of the decks of cards. It doesn’t matter which suit is chosen for each player.
How to Play: The goal of each player is to get rid of all their dice. Each turn, all players choose a die from their collection and all roll them together in the center. Based on their rolls, the players pair off to roll against each other for the round like so: the two highest rolls compete, then the next highest, and so on. Ties always compete against each other, and if there are multi-way ties the odd players compete with the next lowest rolls and so on. If there an odd number of players, the player with the lowest roll sits out for the turn. In situations not described here where the pairings are ambiguous, players are invited to institute on-the-spot criteria to resolve the issue
Once the pairings have been established, players compete like so: each player chooses some number of their dice to wager (minimum of one). The players then roll off against each other, one pair of dice at a time. Play must begin with each player rolling one die, but for every pass thereafter the player may elect to play a card instead of rolling another die. Cards are played on dice already rolled to modify the result (see below). This continues until both players have rolled all their wagered dice, at which point the rolls are tallied and the dice reallocated.
Example: Stan and Joe are paired. Stan wagers two dice and Joe wagers five. Both roll one die to begin the round — Stan rolls lower than Joe. For the next pass, Stan elects to play a card on his first die and reserve his second die, while Joe chooses to continue rolling his second die. On the third pass, Stan rolls his last die and Joe rolls his third. Now, since Stan is out of dice, he can only play cards while Joe continues to roll. Once Joe rolls his last die, the round ends and the dice and cards are tallied. If Joe continues to roll without playing cards, there will only be two more passes in the round and thus two chances for Stan to play cards. However, if Joe decides to pause his rolling and play cards instead, the round will continue and Stan will have more chances to play cards, continuing until Joe rolls his last die.
During the tally, each player chooses one of their rolled die to match against their opponent. At face value, the lowest result wins and the winning player gives their dice away to their opponent, who must take it into their collection. However, if any cards have been played on the dice, the players may choose to reveal the card and take its modification into account. Player reveal cards in turns (the player with the fewest dice reveals first), and players are free to reveal all, some, or none of the cards they have played. Note that players don’t have to reveal the same number of cards as their opponent — a player can continue to reveal cards after their opponent has stopped, but once a player chooses not to reveal on their turn, they may not change their mind and reveal more later for the same die.
Players continue selecting and matching their rolled dice against each other in this way until one or both run out of dice, at which point the round ends and the next pair of players may begin.
Card Play and Effects: Each card played on a rolled die can modify that die’s result like so:
- Even-numbered cards modify the result down by one.
- Odd-numbered cards modify the result down by two.
- Face cards cause the die’s value to be one regardless of any other modifiers.
Any number of cards can be played on a die, but cards can never modify a die’s value below zero. After each round, played cards are removed and collected in a discard pile. These may not be used again until all thirteen cards have been used and discarded. When that occurs, all thirteen cards are recovered and can be used again in the same way starting with the next round.
There is one more special modification cards can have: if the value of the card, when revealed, matches the current combined value of the matched dice — including the effects of all currently revealed cards — that player immediately wins the match and gives away their die.
Winning the Game: The first player to give away all their dice wins the game.