Archive for the 'Play' Category

GWOT Boardgame

September 29, 2006

Risk is a great board game, but it’s so 20th century. Wouldn’t you prefer whiling away a lazy afternoon at the cottage with a more up-to-date tabletop conquest game that better reflects the non-state-based nature of contemporary warfare? If so, War On Terror: The Boardgame might just be for you:

It’s got suicide bombers, political kidnaps and intercontinental war. It’s got filthy propaganda, rampant paranoia and secret treaties…and the Axis of Evil is a spinner in the middle of the board. You can fight terrorism, you can fund terrorism, you can even be the terrorists. The only thing that matters is global domination – err, liberation. (War on Terror: The Boardgame)

The designers of this game have a very dark sense of humor, and the game’s website has lots of little descriptive gems and rulebook entries like this one:

The end game

There are a few possible endings to the War on Terror…

1. An empire liberates the world

The scream of a winning empire. They grab enough land, they build enough cities, they drop enough nukes, they manage to keep the terrorist threat under control and they liberate the world! This is the most common ending.

2. The terrorists claim the planet for their own

Terrorist Victory. Through cunning use of political kidnaps, plane hijacks, terrorist attacks, suicide bombers – and all the other vicious strategies available to them – the terrorists destroy all the Empires and the world has no governments. Perhaps.

3. World peace

World peace, man. A rare but strangely satisfying end to the game. When there are no terrorists on the board, all remaining Empires can claim world peace, give each other a hug and go home knowing that they’ve learnt something special. This has happened once so far.

4. Never ending war

Is there no end to war? The game descends into chaos and the players sacrifice finishing it to save their minds. Luckily, after two years of development and an unhealthy disregard for our own sanity, this doesn’t happen too often anymore. (War on Terror: The Boardgame)

Via Water Cooler Games.


On meaningful engagement in participatory art

September 14, 2006

With the lonelygirl15 saga now history, the web is abuzz with talk of the birth of a new kind of narrative art form that is shaped as much by its originators as it is by the participation of its audience. Beyond the fact that there’s not really anything terribly new about this kind of interactive storytelling — ARGs, fanfic and MMOs come to mind as other examples of the same basic form, and they’ve all been around for a while — it’s important to note that audience participation alone is not enough to produce a meaningful experience. As Jane at Avant Game notes, game designers should be wary of fetishizing participation without asking serious questions about the nature and quality of the audience engagement that their works make possible:

I agree that serial drama on You Tube is a great art form (so are traditional ARGs, the more elaborate art form that lonelygirl represents a pared back style of, in my opinion), but the real conversation should be not about the realness, but rather: How do people want to participate in it? Do they want to be the makers of their own videos? To have role-playing style conversations in the comments? Do they want to directly influence the narrative or to just speculate and gossip about it so they can be proven right by what happens next? And most importantly how do we inspire participation that is more than hostile juvenile comments? How do we create a real participatory community around an entertainment property, and what forms of participation are possible… and desirable? (Avant Game)

Political Games

September 12, 2006

Activists, political parties and special interest groups have used games to spread their messages for a while now. While artists such as Italian collective molleindustria use Flash-based web games to interrogate economic and sexual politics, and satirists such as those behind the Bush Backrub game use interactive web toys to poke fun at public figures, more mainstream groups like the California Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights are getting into the, er, game with diversions aimed at specific issues of public policy.

Other games use less direct but equally powerful methods to push for political change. The forthcoming Left Behind: Eternal Forces presents the dystopian world-view of fundamentalist Christianity in game form, insidiously targeting children with a staunchly anti-United Nations, pro-apocalypse point of view.

Great coverage of everything related to politics in gaming can be found at the regularly-updated blog, Game Politics.

Come Out and Play

September 7, 2006

New York’s first annual Come Out and Play Festival is an opportunity for people in the NYC area to try out a variety of ARGs and street games. The fest is a major event and likely to be a fixture on the scene for years to come. Many of the games don’t require registration, so if you’re just hearing about this now and you’re able to get to Manhattan, check it out. After all, who wouldn’t want to try going to spy school or playing Space Invaders on the wall of a building?

The festival’s four featured games are offerings from some of the best designers in the business. In addition to the second playtest of Jane McGonigal and Ian Bogost’s Cruel 2 B Kind (see my earlier post), here’s what else tops the bill at COAP 2006:

Manhattan Story Mashup

Approximately 250 players will move around Manhattan, taking photos which match a given target. Targets are words from stories, written by visitors on the Manhattan Story Mashup website while the game goes on. The resulting illustrated stories are shown on large public signs in Times Square in real-time and on Manhattan Story Mashup.


Identity is a large-scale social game of secret organizations, covert intelligence, suspicion, trust, cooperation and betrayal. Over the course of three days, five teams will compete for world domination. The goal of the game is to discover which players belong to which team, without allowing your own allegiance to become known.


Plundr is a location-based game of piracy and black market trading. Start out as a bilge-spewing land-lubber in a leaky tub, explore the real world in search of riches and infamy, upgrade your vessel into a mighty warship and amass a fortune in ill-gotten goods. Arrrrr! (Come Out and Play)

Cruel 2 B Kind

September 5, 2006

Innovative and fun-loving ubicomp/this-is-not-a-gaming guru Jane McGonigal’s latest project, Cruel 2 B Kind, “the game of benevolent assassination,” was playtested earlier this week in the Bay Area’s Mission Dolores Park, and from the sounds of it, a good time was had by all:

Overall, it was a great day. Ian and I learned lots, and it was a delight to see the creative strategies invented and deployed by the testers. And the feedback at the assassins’ picnic afterwards was tremendous.

My favorite story was related by the winning team, who staged a successful final attack that began by recruiting a trio of parkgoers to distract their targets… and ended with the whole team “charging up a hill like Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan”… while blowing kisses. Fantastic! (

A little more about the game (from the rules at

Cruel 2 B Kind is a game of benevolent assassination.

At the beginning of the game, you and a partner-in-crime are assigned a secret weapon. To onlookers, it will seem like a random act of kindness. But to a select group of other players, the seemingly benevolent gesture is a deadly maneuver that will bring them to their knees.

Some players will be slain by a serenade. Others will be killed by a compliment. You and your partner might be taken down by an innocent group cheer.

You will be given no information about your targets. No name, no photo, nothing but the guarantee that they will remain within the outdoor game boundaries during the designated playing time. Anyone you encounter could be your target. The only way to find out is to attack them with your secret weapon.

Watch out: The hunter is also the hunted. At the beginning of the game, you and your partner will also be assigned your own secret weakness. Other pairs of players have been given your secret weakness as their secret weapon, and they’re coming to get you. Anything out of the ordinary you do to assassinate YOUR targets may reveal your own secret identity to the other players who want you dead.

As targets are successfully assassinated, the dead players join forces with their killers to continue stalking the surviving players. The teams grow bigger and bigger until two final mobs of benevolent assassins descend upon each other for a spectacular, climactic kill.

Will innocents be caught in the cross-fire? Oh, yes. But when your secret weapon is a random act of kindness, it’s only cruel to be kind to other players… (Cruel 2 B Kind)

More playtests are coming up and the designers are looking for benevolent assassins to play a game on September 23rd in NYC. You can register here.