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Virtual Worlds vs Games

Worldwarcraft6 What’s the difference between a virtual world and a game? Will Massively Multiplayer Online games eventually supersede conventional videogames? Is there more money to be made in the online space than in console gaming? Let us explore the apparent split in the world of games between online and offline play.

To begin with, let us consider our terms. Sites like the distinguished academic crossroads Terra Nova use the term virtual world to refer to the game spaces of massively multiplayer online games. The meaning of terms become established by use, but during the early days of any neologism there is room for discussion to shape the development of its definition, or at least an opportunity to explore its implications. If we take the term outside of this context (admittedly a dangerous move with language), it seems apparent that San Andreas, Tamriel, Hyrule and the Forbidden Lands of Shadow of the Colossus can also lay claim to being virtual worlds. Certainly, they are worlds whose only existence is virtual. 

In fact, continuing to consider the language outside of its context, the term virtual world seems to be more appropriate to a world such as San Andreas (which ceases to exist when it is not in use), while the old term persistent world might be more appropriate for most MMOGs. This shift in terms is no longer helpful, however, since games such as Animal Crossing are functionally equivalent to a persistent world, at least from the perspective of the player (and in games, it is this perspective which counts).

However, the term virtual world has stuck as a descriptor for MMOGs, and attempts to oppose this trend are largely counterproductive at this stage. What remains a possibility is extending the use of the term to games that are neither persistent, nor online (such as the examples given earlier). 

Let us suppose this is a useful trend, and explore its consequences. Firstly, if virtual world describes the pseudo-physical game space of any videogame, what are the boundaries of this term? That is, what does not constitute a virtual world? Did the world of Colossal Cave Adventure constitute a virtual world? What about the levels of Super Monkey Ball? The board of Tetris? The virtual table in Solitaire?

The answer is naturally subjective, but it seems that there are at least two useful boundary conditions. Firstly, the player must be represented by one or more avatars, or be playing in first person, before we can imagine a world. By this criterion, Tetris and Solitaire are effortlessly excluded. But what about Bust a Move where the player has an avatar displayed but it is entirely cosmetic to the game? A second boundary condition would seem to be that the play is at least partially spatial, and to the extent that real world activities such as navigation are present in at least an abstract form. This suggests Colossal Cave Adventure qualifies, while Super Monkey Ball does not: its game spaces are spatially disconnected, and there is no navigation of any kind from one to another.

If we are to consider expanding the term virtual world to describe the play space of any game with an illusion of physical spatiality, what are the most useful distinctions that can then be drawn? 

It is apparent that the MMOG virtual worlds are not the same as their offline cousins. But the distinction that they are hosted online is largely immaterial – after all, we can imagine a version of GTA: San Andreas that was hosted online but played only be lone players (imagine, for instance, charging a subscription fee instead of allowing the player access from a single purchase). It is not the online aspect which distinguishes these games, it is the social aspect. While single player virtual worlds may allow simulated social interactions, only an online virtual world allows the player to interact with other players. (That much of the possible interactions are shallow is an indictment of the populations of some online worlds, and not of the potential of this form).

Perhaps, then, we can consider MMOGs to be social virtual worlds, while offline games constitute asocial worlds, or lone worlds. 

What then is the difference between a game and a virtual world? On the line we are following, a virtual world is simply a descriptor of a contiguous play space in a game. Does that mean that all virtual worlds constitute games? It rests on how we choose to define ‘game’, but in the sense of representing a demarked space for play the term might as well stand.

In terms of game design, the distinction between social and asocial virtual worlds is worth brief mention. Social virtual worlds afford new options for interpersonal play, such as the formation of parties and guilds, the possibility of story play to the standard possible in tabletop RPGs (which we arguably saw in the MOOs and MUSEs more than we have in their graphical descendants), not to mention the capacity to support complex economic simulations. In this respect, social virtual worlds seem to be more variable than asocial worlds. 

But the converse is also true. In a lone virtual world the player can be the centre of attention. This allows for far more dramatic pre-scripted storylines (at least with our current dynamic storytelling techniques), it allows for forms of play involving temporal manipulation (impossible in a social game), it allows the player to indulge themselves in excesses of acquisition, destruction and mischief that simply would not be viable (or at least, not desirable) in a typical social world. And perhaps most importantly, no-one else gets to influence in any way how one plays in an asocial virtual world: except to the extent that the game design team manages to obstruct your will, you are in complete charge of your play in such a game. 

There is a commonly voiced view that the social virtual worlds will eventually drive the lone worlds into obscurity. This view, unsurprisingly, tends to come from those who study or work on social worlds. But the evidence does not support this assertion (at least not yet). The MMOG market supports as many as 8 million players for World of Warcraft, but while there could be this many players concentrated in this single virtual world, there are significantly fewer elsewhere (one or two have a million players, most have less than a quarter of a million). It is widely established that while some new uptake of players occur, the MMOG space is competing for the accounts of its players.

Compare the asocial virtual worlds. Super Mario 64 sold 11 million copies, GTA: San Andreas sold 14 million copies, while the original Pokémon games sold some 20 million copies. Selling 5 million copies of a game is no longer especially rare, although it is certainly still sufficient to mark out a successful game. If we take the largest number of consoles ever sold as an estimated boundary condition for the number of players in circulation, there are at least 100 million players (the number of PlayStations and PS2s sold). This means the most successful asocial worlds are courting about 20% of players, while the most successful social worlds are courting about 8% of players (even collecting all such games together they only account for about 12% of players). 

There will always be players who would rather play without the interference of other players, and there will always be players who are more drawn to playing with other people. If psychological models of introversion and extraversion apply to this split, we would expect players to be divided pretty much 50-50 between the two camps. Whichever way you look at it, it does not seem that social virtual worlds are replacing their single player relatives, but rather establishing their own parallel market. There are certainly economic questions as to which game industry business models are the best investment, but there is no question that both kinds of virtual world will continue to be commercially relevant for the foreseeable future.

Adjusting Focus

Five weeks to GDC, and I need to get my head back into thinking about games for a while. I'm not saying I won't diverge onto other topics, as I most assuredly will, but it would be good if I could stay with play and games for the next month or so. So what game thoughts do I have rattling around?

  • On the subject of GDC, I am pleased to announce that I made it onto a panel this year. Finally, I get my GDC pass for free, after years of being registered as a speaker but still having to pay. I'll write more about this panel once a few more details have settled.
  • Where are the reviews of Play with Fire? I haven't seen any yet.
  • Playing a lot of Tetris on the DS with my wife at the moment, it's not the first time in my life that this game has occupied a large amount of playing bandwidth (playwidth?). If one counts all of the iterations of the game, has it sold more than Super Mario Bros. i.e more than 40 million units? The Gameboy version alone racked up 33 million unit sales. Is the secret of its success that of the first mover - the Genre King effect, as Danc puts it - or is there something more fundamental behind its impressively wide appeal? I suspect the latter, but the former effect is hard to eliminate.
  • Just reached the Temple of Time in Twilight Princess... The more puzzle-focussed the play of this Zelda game has been, the less I've enjoyed it. Really, I'd like more excuses to ride Epona and fewer play-halting braincrunches.
  • I haven't turned on the PS2 in more than a month now (since getting the Wii, in fact). Am I really going to return to any of those PS2 games in my 'Currently Playing' list...? Starting to doubt it.

Feel free to prod me with game-related thoughts. I could use the impetus!

Lost Island: Annotated Notes

This final post covers how the game design for Lost Island was created. A direct transcript of the notes in the book used to plan the game is supplemented with some annotations for clarity. It is probably only of interest to you if you want to look at the design process behind the game, but I largely suspect this is the interesting part of the process for many readers.


Premise: Hex-based Adventure board game

Comments: Usually my premise statement says something more tangible than this… I suspect my mind was already skipping ahead to the mechanics. I already knew that I wanted to make something with the feel of a Ray Harryhausen or cheesy Doug McLure movie to it, and the premise should probably have stated this. But since the notes are really for just my own benefit, it scarcely matters.  

Originally, I had been planning to make a fantasy game with my specially cut hexes (the ones I used previously to make Black Sun), and I had presumed that ‘fantasy’ would mean ‘sword-and-sorcery’. However, after thinking about it idly for a while, it occurred to me that ‘fantasy’ was a much broader term and could describe many different settings. I think this was the point that I thought a fantasy monster B-movie was perfect material for a fun little boardgame – and my infinite respect for the work of Ray Harryhausen was certainly an inspiration.

Start with a cluster of 3 hexes. 

[There is a sketch here of the initial setup for the game which shows three hexes, one of which is the crash site.]

Each turn, explore the island by discovering new hexes. (Can also move back through hexes faster when exploring). 

Monsters (3) roam the island and must be protected against.

One resource: Wood. Comes in little sticks. 

Get one when you find a forest and travel through a forest and chance on beach.

Comments: The setup of the hexes didn’t change, but this point about moving back through the hexes never amounted to anything. An extra monster was later added, but the resource mechanic stayed. The rule about getting a wood when you travel through a forest was later changed, as we will see below. The idea of having a single resource was to stimulate a resource economy without excessive complexity – for this game, which has plenty of spatial play, this transpired to be a solid design choice.


Volcano (1) (1) Centre: 1, Edge: 0
Mountain (m) (5) Centre: 2, Edge: 2
(2 x m) (10) Centre: 6, Edge: 4
Beach (2 x m)  (10) Centre: 0, Edge: 10

Comments: It seems like I already had an idea of which different hexes I was going to want, and the only issue was the distribution. The process of deciding how many hexes of each type would be required began with some speculation: if there are m mountain pieces, let’s assume there are 2m Forest and Beach hexes. Then, I looked at how this would play out if m = 5, and split the hexes between centre and edge hexes. Sometime around this point, I got out some blank hexes and started experimenting with how they might fit together. I was testing how the island might come together if about half of the hexes were ‘edge pieces’ – that is, half water and half land – and this actually worked out rather well, producing hex patterns that felt very island-like. After 15 minutes or so of dealing hex distributions I was sufficiently convinced to proceed on this basis.

The final distributions were 1 Volcano, 8 Mountain, 16 Forest (6 edge), and 16 Beach (all edges), so the original algebraic pattern held, and then I specified approximately half as edges – all the Beaches plus 6 Forest edges. This should have been 5, strictly speaking, but I decided to over estimate since my practice runs with the hexes had shown me that the edges were key to how the shaping of the island would work.

Next, I started looking at the internal game economy: what would Wood be used for?



Hut: 5, Fence: 1, Fire: 2
Raft: 10, Spear: 1 

Comments: The numbers I produced here stuck for the game – it just made sense that a Wood counter could become either a fence or a spear, and that you would put two together to make a fire. 5 and 10 for the Hut and Raft were chosen because these were internal game goals – the first would want to be at least twice its prior value (2), and so again for the next one – hence an implied game sequence of 2, 5, 10. Clearly, I had already decided the players would be using a Raft to escape, but I don’t think I had decided on a purpose for the Hut yet – other than as a stage goal (which in some respects was the more important element).


Giant Crab: mountain = 0, beach = 1, forest = 2, starts on largest beach, remains on beach unless beach with crab symbol comes up à moves towards nearest survivor. Can go 1 hex inland only i.e. must always be on hex next to beach.

Dinosaur: forest = 2, beach = 2, mountain = 0, starts on largest forest, moves towards nearest survivor 

Giant Eagle: mountain = 1, all; moves 3 but requires all 3 to strike in 1 hex.

Ants/Termites: eat Wood! 

Comments: I had no preconceived ideas here, so I was just jamming off the possibilities. It looks like I was originally thinking about different movement rates over the different terrains for each type of Monster, but later it occurred to me that the game would be improved if all the Monsters followed the same general rule which would just be adjusted to match a specific terrain type. (We’ll get to this). ‘Starts on the largest beach’ or ‘largest forest’ transpired to be a meaningless term, but the inclination was sound – it became placing the monster when there were 3 or more contiguous hexes of the given type. Oh and the types of Monster at this stage were just suggestions, and became a more general specification later so that when we would get to make the Fimo models we could make what we wanted to. In fact, I’m sure part of the motivation for this game was the idea that we would get to make little Fimo monsters…


Points = Stories

Kill monster = 1 Story
Build Hut = 1 Story
Sequence: Fire
--> Hut --> Raft

Hut must be sealed on all sides by a hedge and fence before Hut can be built. 

Monster killed only when it can’t flee.

If you can’t stop the monster, it ‘defeats you’ and you miss your turn. 

Comments: The basic idea here held – and the sequence of play did derive from the sequence above. This idea of ‘Points = Stories’ fell away; points were just scored for achieving goals, with nothing especially fancy going on. The idea of the Monster being killed when it couldn’t flee eventually fell away once I decided there would be a scoring sheet. A health mechanic, with one point per wound caused, eventually became the rule.

Spear (1 Wood): drive Monster back 1 square
Fence (1 Wood): put on board. Monster must go around.
Fire (2 Wood): can include fence.
Hut (5 Wood): Hut on board… safe at Hut and can store Wood safely
Raft (10 Wood): end game

Hut: must be ‘safe’ i.e. Wood/edge lined.

Raft: must already have Hut. 

Comments: Just developing the internal economy. Most of this stands, except the idea of a Monster that would destroy Wood was dropped, so the idea of the Hut protecting your Wood supplies dropped naturally out. I decided that the internal economy would be fragile enough from player competition without something destroying the basic resource.


Turn Sequence

3 Actions
Move or Build
or Fire or Spear 

  1. Monster Move
  2. 3 Actions
  3. Monster Attack
  1. Monster Attack
  2. Take 3 Actions
  3. Monster Moves 
  1. Monster Move
  2. Monster Attack
         Spear = 1w, Fire = 2 w, & 1      Action
  3. Take 3 Actions
         Spear = 1w, Fire = 2 w, Fence = 1w, Hut = 5 w

Comments: watch me go around in circles on the turn sequence. The final sequence – not listed in my notes – was Monster Move, Take Actions, then Monster Attack, but this did not become apparent until the early play testing.



Beach = 1 Action
= 2 Actions
Mountain = 3 Actions
(Swim = 2 Actions)

Scout hex = 1 Action (place anywhere)

Act (1 Action) 

Spear = 1 Wood & 1 Action
Fire = 2 Wood & 1 Action
Fence = 1 Wood & 1 Action
Hut = 5 Wood & 3 Actions

Raft requires 10 Wood contributed by all players & requires two players to be on the same beach spot. 

Comments: Apart from dropping the ‘swim’ action, and changing ‘scout hex’ to being called ‘explore’, this is pretty much how it turned out. As the different actions became apparent, they gradually split into two different verbs Make (Fence, Spear, Fire) which uses 1 Action, and Build (Hut, Tool) which uses 3 Actions. You can see the roots of that here, but it didn’t become finalised until the Tools were specified.



A. Explore: ends when there is a fire for each person covering unique 7 hexes.
B. Build: build Hut – requires hex which is bounded on all sides by fences or edges
C. Escape: build Raft – requires 2 players to be in same beach hex and contribute wood, then requires 10 Wood to finish.

Comments: This is how it worked out in the final game, except some of the wordings were cleaned up for the rules.



  • When new forest hex appears, place Wood on it.
  • When dinosaur passes through Forest hex put Wood on it.


  • 1 Action in Forest = 2/3 chance of Wood [3, 4, 5, 6]
  • 1 Action on Beach = 1/3 chance of Wood [5, 6]

Carrying: can carry 3 Wood (therefore to make Hut need to leave 2 on spot) 

Comments: I have a liking for adding a little alea into board games (helps make it more accessible), and the patterns here were designed as “in a forest, it should be easy to get Wood, but you could fail, on the beach, finding Wood (drift wood) should be more of an achievement”. Rolling 5 or 6 on one die is a way of getting fiero out of a die roll, but it must be said since Forests are the better source of Wood, I knew that most of the time these die rolls would be about avoiding failure rather than treasuring success. Still, all these mechanics remained in the final game, and worked well in practice.



Crab – Beach; miss turn & lose half Wood
Ant – Forest; eats Wood
Eagle – Mountain; miss turn and lose half Wood
Dinosaur – Volcano; as above + requires 2 Spears to kill


Hex for each challenge Scoreboard

<Fire> <one for each monster> <Hut> <Raft> = 7 

Comments: Shaking down the rules, here… The cost of being biffed by a Monster eventually became the same: you get pushed back to the Crash Site and you lose all your Wood (which is left behind). Moving across the island is expensive in this game, so losing your spatial position is a significant penalty – there was no need to penalise the player with a lost turn as well. (Lost turns are an overused penalty in boardgames in my opinion – they create frustrations but no rewards). At the end here you can see me finally decided to get a Scoreboard, and then looking at how many different ways to score there would be. The answer, as you can see, would be 7 – one for each monster, plus the goals of each stage of the game.


Power Ups

Cart: costs 3 Wood & 3 Actions. Can carry 5 Wood.
Crossbow: spears now hit on 4,5,6 (not just 5&6). Costs 3 Wood and 3 Actions.
Machete: moving through Woods generates 1 wood. Costs 3 Wood and 3 Actions. Forest move becomes 1 + search for Wood in forests always succeed.

10 Spear, hit 3 1/3 times.
Buy Crossbow, 7 spears hit 3 ½ times.

Comments: This is the last page of my notes. The final addition was the Tools, called here ‘Power Ups’ because, well, that’s what they are. Note how they all developed the same cost – this led to the split of the ‘Act’ verb into a ‘Make’ (1 Action) and ‘Build’ (3 Actions) verb. The calculation at the bottom is seeing how effective the Crossbow would be in practice by checking it probabilitically. The cart was stupidly underpowered here! Carry 5 Wood? Not worth the price. Almost immediately this became ‘carry as much Wood as you like’.

After some play testing, there were two apparent problems with the Tools. The first was that the Machete was clearly the most useful Tool, as being able to move faster across the island is mighty, and getting Wood automatically is a sweet bonus.  

Another problem that came out in play was that to make the Tools you would just sit in a Forest hex, farm Wood until you had enough to make a Machete, then a Cart then a Crossbow.

The eventual solution was to make each Tool belong to a particular hex type, so that the player would have to move to a Beach, Forest or Mountain to make the different things. The Machete was placed on the Mountain (the hardest to access) for balance. The Cart was still too weak, even with an infinite ability to carry, so this was granted faster movement through Mountains as well. All these changes left the Crossbow seeming weak, so that was given the ability to hit Monsters in neighbouring hexes. After these changes, everything seems to be pretty neatly balanced.

Overall Comments: Not much changed between the end of the design notes and the implementation of the game, except perhaps for the addition of the ‘Eruption!’ rule which ends the game with the threat of encroaching lava. This is so perfect for the pulp adventure feel of the game that I can scarcely believe it wasn’t thought of sooner, and I so wish we had sprayed the underside of all the hexes Red to show the lava. We might still do so, but I’m paranoid about damaging the painted side of the hexes.

This was a surprisingly straightforward design task for me. Most of the rules were made in a single night, and the vast majority of the draft rules worked fine in practice. There were problems with hex placements until we made “Mountains wild” so that they could fill in the spaces that occurred when hexes were positioned awkwardly, but this was the only real oversight; everything else was just game balancing issues. 

On the whole, I feel this game fulfilled its original design goals perfectly, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out. The cuteness of the Fimo monsters my friends made really adds to the fun of the game, too – it wouldn’t have been the same without them!

If you have any questions about the game or the design process behind it, feel free to ask in the comments. Have fun!

Lost Island: Rules

These are the rules for the boardgame Lost Island. This game is co-operative, but has competitive elements - the players must work together if they want to escape the island, but they compete amongst themselves to score the most points in the process. There is still some shakedown going on with this game, so these should not necessarily be considered final. If you are consumed by temporary insanity and build your own Lost Island set, feel free to play how you like!



Dsc01106 Shuffle all the hexes together except the Volcanoes and Crash Sites. 

Place a Crash Site in the centre of the table, and place two random hexes next to it. Put each of the player’s Pawns on the Crash Site. This is the starting setup.

Then, shuffle one of the Volcanoes into the pile of hexes.


Optional Rule: For a slightly easier game, place a Fire on the Crash Site during the setup.



Lost Island is a game arranged into a sequence of phases. Each of these phases, known as Chapters, concerns a different part of the story of the player’s escape from the island (or their ultimate demise!) The Chapters are as follows: 

  1. Exploration: in which the players find Wood and light Fires.
  2. Building: in which the players build a Hut.
  3. Escape: in which the players attempt to build their Raft to escape.

The players gain certain new abilities as the game progresses. 


Turn Sequence

Each player takes their turn in clockwise order, with the first player being chosen at random by a die roll. This is the turn sequence: 

  1. Place Hex: draw a hex from the pile and place it according to the placement rules.
  2. Move Monster: if there is a Monster somewhere on the island, it moves.
  3. Take Actions: the player spends their Actions to Move, Make or Build.
  4. Monster Attacks! if there is a Monster in the same hex as the player whose turn it is, it mauls them.

Each of these steps is described below.


1. Place Hex 

Dsc01109 During the game, new hexes will be drawn from the pile and placed onto the island. The following rules govern hex placement:

  • Every hex must be placed so that at least one edge touches the edge of another hex.
  • Water edges must always be placed such that they touch other water edges (or nothing).
  • Land (Beach or Forest) edges must always be placed such that they touch other land      edges (or nothing).
  • Mountain edges are ‘wild’ and can touch either water, land or other mountain edges.
  • The Volcano counts as a Mountain for hex placement.

Additionally, whenever the player places a Forest hex, place a Wood counter upon it.


2. Move Monster 

2a. Placing New Monsters

Dsc01111 Initially, there are no Monsters in play. Each of the Monsters only appears when a certain condition is met: 

  • The Beach Monster appears when there are three Beach hexes that connect.
  • The Forest Monster appears when there are three Forest hexes that connect.
  • The Mountain Monster appears when there are three Mountain hexes that connect.
  • The Volcano Monster appears whenever the Volcano is drawn.

The Crash Site does not count as a Beach for Monster placement (but it does for Searching).

Whenever a Monster appears, the player who played the hex that caused it to appear can place it into any of the hexes responsible for its appearance. 

Note that, generally speaking, players should be trying to avoid Monsters appearing (at least during the Exploration phase) as it will make life much more difficult for them. Therefore, they should be trying to find places to put hexes that will not make three consecutive hexes of the same type. However, evil players may want to make a Monster appear where it will maul the other players. But be careful – revenge can be vicious in this game!


2b. Moving Monsters

Dsc01119 When a player has to move a Monster, the following rules apply: 

  • The player moves one and only one Monster.
  • The Monster that moves is the one that is closest to the player’s Pawn.
  • The Monster must move so that it is 1 hex closer to the player’s Pawn.
  • If the closest Monster cannot be moved such that it is one hex nearer to the player’s Pawn, the Monster that is the next furthest away moves instead.
  • If no Monster can be moved closer, no move takes place.

Note that if there is a Monster in the same hex as the player’s Pawn, they will be moving another Monster (since this Monster cannot get any closer). 

Furthermore, there are restrictions on where monsters can be placed:

  • No Monster can cross a Fence (see below).
  • The Beach Monster cannot move to where it is not in or adjacent to a Beach hex.
  • The Forest Monster cannot move to where it is not in or adjacent to a Forest hex.
  • The Mountain Monster cannot move to where it is not in or adjacent to a Mountain hex.
  • The Volcano Monster, however, can move anywhere.

Each Monster has a different number of circles representing its life (see the scoring track in the Components): 

  • The Forest Monster has 3 circles.
  • The Beach Monster has 4 circles.
  • The Mountain Monster has 5 circles.
  • The Volcano Monster has 7 circles.

There are also 2 shaded circles for each Monster. These are ‘bonus points’ scored when the Monster is slain. 


3. Take Actions 

The player Moves or takes Actions in this phase. The players gain certain new Actions in the later Chapters of the game.

At the start of the game, each player gets 3 Actions. (When they build a Hut, this increases to 4 Actions). 

Movement costs are as follows:

  • 1 Action to enter a Beach hex.
  • 2 Actions to enter a Forest hex (1 Action with a Machete – see below).
  • 3 Actions to enter a Mountain hex (1 Action with a Cart – see      below).

It’s a free action (i.e. no cost) to pick up a Wood counter that is in the current hex. (For example, every new Forest hex that is placed has a Wood counter on it; when the player enters such a hex, they can pick up that Wood counter). 

The player can carry up to 3 Wood counters. Any surplus Wood that cannot be carried must be left on the current hex.

The following Actions apply in all Chapters of the game: 

  • Search: searching for Wood costs 1 Action.
         On a Beach, the player finds a Wood counter on a 5 or a 6 on one die.
         On a
    Forest, the player finds a Wood counter on a 3, 4, 5 or 6 on one die.
  • Explore: exploring costs 1 Action. Draw an extra hex and place it according to the usual rules. But beware – when there are no hexes left to draw, the Volcano will erupt…
  • Make: it costs 1 Action to make:
         (a) between 1 and 3 Spears to attack a Monster.
         Each Spear costs 1 Wood to make.
         Roll one die for each Spear thrown; on a 5 or a 6 the Monster is wounded – place one of the player’s counters on the scoring track for the Monster.
         When a Monster is hit by a Spear, it is moved back 1 hex into a neighbouring hex (this hex must be legal for that Monster).
         When the unshaded circles in the Monster’s track are all filled, the Monster is killed! The player can place an extra two counters on the scoring track (over the shaded circles) and the Monster is removed from play.
         (b) a Fire.
         It costs 2 Wood to make a Fire.
         Fires must be three hexes apart from each other (that is, there must be two hexes between each hex with a Fire in it).
         Monsters can never enter a hex with a Fire in it.
         (c) a Fence.
         It costs 1 Wood to make a Fence.
         Place the Wood counter along the edge of the hex to show there is a Fence there.
         Monsters cannot cross Fences.
         If you are desperate for Wood to make Spears and there is a Fence in your location, you can cannibalise the Fence to make a Spear.


4. Monster Attacks! 

Dsc01116 At the end of each player’s turn, they are mauled by a Monster if there is one in their current Hex. Other players whose turn it is not are unaffected by Monsters. You can only be mauled in your own turn.

Players that are Mauled drop all their Wood in the current hex, and return to their Hut (if they have one) or the Crash Site (if not). Tough break! 

Optional Rule: if two Monsters end up in the same hex at the end of a player’s turn, they fight! Roll one die for each unshaded circle that a Monster has. Whichever Monster gets the least number of 5’s and 6’s retreats 1 hex (chosen by the current player; the hex must be legal for that Monster).


We are now ready to look at what happens in each Chapter.


Chapter One: Exploration

What is this mysterious place…? 

During the Exploration chapter, player’s have the goal of trying to light one Fire for each player.

It costs 1 Action and 2 Wood to make a Fire, and each Fire must be 3 hexes away from any other Fire (that is, there must be two hexes between any two Fires). 

Players score 1 point for each Fire they light – place a scoring counter on the appropriate scoring track.

Anyone can light as many Fires as they can - it is not necessary for each player to make a Fire, just that one Fire is made for each player. 

If Monsters appear in this Chapter, players may fight them (with Spears – see above) in order to earn points.

As soon as there is one Fire for every player, the Exploration chapter ends.

Known problem: it may be the case that with 5 players, it is not practical to make 5 fires that are 3 hexes apart without using up most of the game time, thus dooming the players to a fiery death. More testing is needed. 


Chapter Two: Building 

We need shelter…

During the Building chapter, player’s have the goal of trying to build a Hut. 

It costs 3 Actions (the player’s entire turn) to build a Hut, plus 5 Wood. (Since players can only carry 3 Wood, the extra Wood must be piled onto the hex where the Hut is to be built).

Once the player has built a Hut, they get 4 Actions instead of 3. 

Furthermore, there are restrictions as to where a Hut can be built:

  • The hex where a Hut is built must be surrounded by hexes on all sides.
  • The hex where a Hut is built must be enclosed by Fences or water. Therefore, on a hex with water, three Fences must be made, and on a hex without water, six fences must be made.

Players score more points the sooner they build their Hut (place scoring counters in the appropriate place on the scoring track): 

  • 4 points for the first Hut.
  • 3 points for the second Hut.
  • 2 points for the third Hut.
  • 1 point for the fourth or fifth Hut.

The Building chapter ends when two or more players have built Huts. 



From the Building chapter onwards, the players may also build special Tools to help them. It costs 3 Actions (the player’s whole turn – unless they have already built a Hut) and 3 Wood to make each of the Tools: 

  • On a Beach hex, players can build a Crossbow using 3 Wood and a special seaweed that grows only on this island.
         The Crossbow means that instead of Spears, players build Crossbow Bolts – these cost the same (1 Wood each, 1 Action to fire 1-3), but wound on a 4, 5 and 6.
         Additionally, the player can wound a Monster in a neighbouring hex with a Crossbow.
  • On a Forest hex, players can build a Cart using 3 Wood.
         The Cart means that the player can now carry any amount of Wood.
    Furthermore, with a Cart, it only costs 1 Action to enter a Mountain.
  • On a Mountain hex, players can build a Machete using 3 Wood to smelt some iron ore.
         The Machete means that the player automatically finds Wood when they Search in a
    Forest. (This still takes 1 Action, but they do not have to roll a die).
         Furthermore, with a Machete, it only costs 1 Action to enter a

Note that there are only 2 of each Tool, so if there are 3 or more players not everyone can get each of the Tools. Players must decide how much they want the Tools – they are useful, but are the worth the time and cost to build them…? 


Dsc01123 Whenever there are no hexes remaining in the pile, the Volcano erupts! This usually happens in the Building chapter, but it could happen at any point. Once the Volcano erupts, instead of drawing and placing a hex, the player flips over a hex (to represent that hex is covered in molten lava).

The following rules restrict which hexes can be flipped: 

  • The first hex to be flipped is always the Volcano.
  • Subsequent hexes must neighbour another hex which has been flipped.
  • Players may not flip a hex with a Pawn upon it unless there are no other hexes that can be flipped. Any player whose Pawn is on a hex that is flipped is out of the game.
  • Anything on a flipped hex is destroyed, with the single exception of the Volcano Monster. The players must kill this themselves.

Chapter Three: Escape

We’ve got to get out of here! 

To escape the island, the players must build a Raft.

To begin the Raft, two Pawns belonging to players who have already built Huts must be in the same hex, and each player must contribute 1 Wood. This is 1 Action for the player whose turn it is. (If one player has 2 Wood and the other none, they may give the other player 1 Wood as a free action). 

The Raft must be constructed in a hex with water edges. Once the Raft is begun, it cannot be moved.

It costs 1 Action and 1 Wood to contribute to the Raft, and every time a player does so they get to place a counter on the scoring track for the Raft (this includes the first two Wood contributed by the first two players). 

Although a Raft can only be begun by two players who have built Huts, anyone can contribute to the construction of the Raft once it has begun, even if they haven't built a Hut.

The Raft is complete when all ten of the circles on the scoring track for the Raft are covered by counters.

If players run out of scoring counters (which can happen if they have spent a lot of effort fighting Monsters), they cannot contribute – they are two exhausted to construct the Raft! 

Play proceeds around the table one more time, so that every other player gets an extra turn. The next time it is the turn of the player who contributed the last Wood to the Raft, all players with a Pawn on the same hex as the Raft escape the island! Congratulations, you made it.

Everyone else is stranded behind! 

Winning the Game 

After the players have escaped, count up the counters on the scoring track. Whichever player has the most is the winner. If more than one player has the most, all such players win. 

Next, we’ll go through the designer’s notes for this game.

Lost Island: Components

Lost Island is a custom-made hex boardgame, made last year. The game is set on a mysterious island, where the players have had the misfortune to become stranded. Can they build a raft and escape before the monsters of the island defeat them?

This is one of a set of three posts about the game, describing the components. Rules and Designer’s Notes follow shortly. This game does not exist in a commercial form, so if you want to try playing it, you’ll need to make or jury-rig the following components. Alternatively, you could make a digital version.  I am happy for anyone to do so provided they do not commercially exploit the game, which remains copyrighted to me.


Dsc01096 The hexes in my set were made by spray painting and hand-painting some 90 mm custom made hexes, which were laser cut from 100 micron (1 mm) cardstock. However, the principles of the game will also work with square board pieces, which are considerably easier to make. Unlike the Black Sun hexes, I haven’t varnished these. The Black Sun hexes stick together as a result of the varnish, and I decided I’d rather risk the paint work being damaged from wear and tear this time.

The game uses: 

16 Beach Hexes (top left). Each is painted so that exactly one half of the edges are water, and one half are beach. These were made by spraying the hexes with a sandy yellow paint, and then the water was painted on by hand. We actually made 18, so that 2 could be used as Crash Sites (see below).

10 Forest Hexes (bottom right). These were made by spraying hexes green.

6 Forest Edge Hexes (bottom left). Each is painted so that exactly one half of the edges are water, and one half are forest. These were forest hexes with the water hand painted, as with the beaches.

8 Mountain Hexes (not shown - like the Volcano in the top right, but with nothing painted on it). These were made by spraying hexes grey. 

1 Volcano Hex (top right). Made by painting a volcano image onto a mountain hex. We made two, so we could have a different looking volcano in each game.

1 Crash Site Hex (centre bottom). This was made from an extra Beach hex. The one that has been made is a plane crash, but the intention was to make an alternative Crash Site based upon a shipwreck. 

If you wanted to make the game with square board pieces, just follow the same guidelines, that is, two of the four edges of any square with water should be marked with water, and the other two with the appropriate type of land.


We later added a rule about the Volcano erupting, and flipping the hexes over as part of the endgame. This was a natural progression of the play of the game. If we'd known this was going to happen, we would have spray painted the underside of each hex in red to show the lava.

Player Pieces

Dsc01229 All the playing pieces were fashioned out of Fimo; a modelling clay that can be set hard by baking in the oven. I love working with Fimo, and for this game I had a group of friends come around and we made all the playing pieces together. 

Each player receives:

1 Pawn. This shows where the player is on the game board. You could use anything as a pawn; we made custom pieces in different colours. 

1 Hut. This is something the player builds.

20 Counters. These are used for scoring. 

Resources & Tools 

Dsc01230 More Fimo.

The game requires: 

About 50 Wood counters. We made them out of brown Fimo, but 50 matchsticks would be just as good.

5 Fire counters. Again, made from Fimo, but you could make them from cardboard.

2 Crossbows.

2 Machetes. 

2 Carts.

1 Raft.


Dsc01231 The game requires a monster for each of the terrains – that is, a Beach monster, a Forestmonster, a Mountain monster and a Volcano monster. We made ours out of Fimo, but you could use plastic dinosaurs or something similar.

We made the following monsters: 

One Crab (Beach monster).

One Thing (Forest monster).

One Yeti (Mountain monster).

One Dragon (Volcano monster).

Score Sheet 


You will also need a scoring sheet like this one, which is where the scoring counters for each player will go as the game progresses. 


And last but not least…


You need three dice (ordinary six-sided dice), but more is always nice.

Next we’ll look at what you do with all these pieces as we go through the rules.


Today, my head is empty of thoughts. This is a rare occurrence, and I find myself reluctant to relinquish this brief freedom from ideas. More nonsense soon.

The Future of Metaphysics

Earth_1 What lies in the future of metaphysics? The question itself is metaphysical in nature, since we have no means of determining the future that is not in itself metaphysical. 

Some believe that the future of metaphysics lies in the triumph of anti-religious atheism, that religion is a passing phase of humanity soon to be replaced by the one true way of Science, whose truth is self-evident, and those who do not trust in their version of Science will be swept away by the tides of history, and marked as fools. Such people are entitled to their beliefs.

Some believe that the future of metaphysics lies in the triumph of an individual religious doctrine, that physical existence is a passing phase of humanity soon to be replaced by the union with the divine, whose truth is self-evident, and those who do not trust in their version of God will be swept away by the tides of history, and marked as fools. Such people are entitled to their beliefs. 

Some people believe that anyone who claims to know with certainty what is going on has a screw loose. Such people are most certainly entitled to their beliefs.

I hope that the future of metaphysics lies in humanity accepting that we are all free to believe whatever we choose, that our gloriously varied belief systems are unique, wonderful, and worth protecting, and that no single metaphysical view can be allowed to persecute (or, for that matter, systematically harass) a different metaphysical view. 

I hope that the future of metaphysics will bring peace between science and religion, perhaps by agreeing to enforce Popper’s Milestone, perhaps by simply accepting that science is not a body of knowledge or an absolute ideology, but a collection of experiments, data and theories proposed and maintained by people that requires interpretation by each individual in the light of their own beliefs and experience.

I hope that by learning to respect each other’s metaphysical choices – and non-choices in the case of agnostics – we can move beyond fighting over metaphysics and perhaps begin to solve our social and environmental problems, battle natural disasters instead of rival nations and ideologies, end war (maybe…), end persecution, end poverty, end hunger, and move together in a spirit of love and unity. Not, perhaps, without arguments and disagreements, and probably always under the threat of terrorism from some violent malcontent, but perhaps, just perhaps, without any more wasted effort trying to convince each other that there is only one way, and that somehow it is possible to know with certainty what that one way is. 

You can choose to believe in whichever future of metaphysics you like… so the question must be: what kind of future do you want?

Next week, it's back to the humdrum game design and Temperament theory posts. But stay tuned - sometime around March we'll be beginning the Ethics campaign. Hope to see you there!

Reality, Optional

Kallisti_stamp This piece is a tribute to maverick intellectual Robert Anton Wilson, who died last week. He loved to swear so much that I feel that I must waive my usual restriction about swearing on this blog for this piece. For this reason – and many others – this piece may be considered offensive. If you are easily offended, I strongly recommend that you do not read it.  

Robert Anton Wilson was a highly unconventional thinker who seems completely insane on first examination, but as you explore his views more closely he gradually becomes even more insane, until finally you are as crazy as he is. When people think of crazy writers, they often think of Phillip K. Dick, so it is telling that Dick stated of the writings of Robert Anton Wilson: “Wilson managed to reverse every mental polarity in me, as if I had been pulled through infinity.” Wilson himself was quick to sign up for being a lunatic: “Of course I'm crazy,” he said, “but that doesn't mean I'm wrong.” 

The following interview with Robert Anton Wilson took place shortly after his death, in a neighbouring reality where the universe is the size of a postage stamp and prone to giving interviews.

Miniature Universe: Thanks for letting me interview you. What’s it like being dead?

Robert Anton Wilson: I don't understand why people fear death - although of course I see good reasons to fear the process of dying. Dying often involves a great deal of prolonged pain, and in the United States, at least, may drain your life savings into the bank accounts of the A.M.A. Both prospects seem equally terrifying, especially if you hoped to leave a decent estate to your children. But as for death, and what – if anything – comes after death, I see no cause for apprehension whatsoever.

MU: Do you believe in Heaven?

RAW: From all the descriptions I've read, Heaven sounds dreadful to me. It seems to have a population made up entirely of some gang of Christians; the experts on Heaven disagree about which conglomeration of Christians will qualify, but they always seem to think that they personally belong to that elite group. An eternity with people that conceited seems intolerable to me, but fortunately I am not a Christian so I won't be consigned to such a boring place.

MU: So does that make you an atheist?

RAW: I used to be an atheist, but then I found I had nothing to say during blow jobs. Somehow yelling ‘random chance, random chance!’ at the climax just doesn’t convey the gravity of the situation.

MU: So you have some alternative views on death.

RAW: Well one alternative after-death scenario involves merger with “God” or with “the Godhead” (the latter term seems more popular). This idea, which seems Hindu in origin, currently enjoys vast popularity with New Agers. I see nothing terrifying here; in fact, I suspect I would enjoy it, based on my previous experiences in which this merging or melting seemed to take place on LSD. An infinite Acid Trip in which the whole universe seems like your body: who could fear that (except Republicans)?

MU: But you can’t be certain this is what happens after death?

RAW: Only the madman is absolutely sure.

MU: What if there’s nothing after death? Does that scare you?

RAW: If I become totally oblivious, I won't know about it (by definition of oblivion). How can you feel terrified of something you can't experience? Besides, oblivion means freedom from “all the ills the flesh is heir to,” from bleeding piles to cancer – even bad reviews of my books. Living in New York or Los Angeles seems much worse than not living in Oblivion.

MU: So what do you believe, then?

RAW: I don't believe anything, but I have many suspicions. I strongly suspect that a world “external to,” or at least independent of, my senses exists in some sense. I also suspect that this world shows signs of intelligent design, and I suspect that such intelligence acts via feedback from all parts to all parts and without centralized sovereignty – much like the Internet. I somewhat suspect that theism and atheism both fail to account for such decentralized intelligence, rich in circular-causal feedback.

MU: But you don’t consider your suspicions to constitute beliefs?

RAW: These suspicions have grown over 74 years, but as a rather slow and stupid fellow I do not have the chutzpah to proclaim any of them as certitudes. Give me another 74 years and maybe I'll arrive at firmer conclusions.

MU: You’re always keen to avoid using the word belief. Why is that?

RAW: I consider dogmatic belief and dogmatic denial very childish forms of conceit in a world of infinitely whirling complexity. Belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence. Whenever people are certain they understand our peculiar situation here on this planet, it is because they have accepted a particular religious or secular ideology and just stopped thinking.

MU: But you can’t get through life without having some beliefs, surely.

RAW: Well, put it this way, then: if you think you know what the hell is going on, you're probably full of shit. Our world is controlled by belief systems - BS. My advice to anyone living in the world would be: don't believe totally in anybody's BS. The second commandment is like unto the first: don't believe totally in your own BS.

MU: Is it your goal to spread this message? To create some sort of ontological uprising?

RAW: At my most ambitious I want to make as big a revolution as Voltaire or Marx or Nietzsche, only I hope mine will be totally wholesome. Of course, that's hoping for a lot. On a more modest level, I just hope I give some people some good laughs, cheer them up and make them a little more optimistic because the world is suffering from terrible depression. It's a global illness.

MU: For someone with such a positive outlook, you often seem to have little good to say about politicians.

RAW: Well, the shock of discovering that most of the power in the world is held by ignorant and greedy people can really bum you out at first; but after you've lived with it a few decades, it becomes, like cancer and other plagues, just another problem that we will solve eventually if we keep working at it.

MU: Do you see yourself as a guru or a teacher? Do you have followers?

RAW: A follower is an asshole looking for someone to attach itself to – I have one already, thanks, I don’t need any more! I guess I see myself as more of a spiritual anarchist. In Prometheus Rising and Quantum Psychology I'm definitely trying to teach the reader how to change their own consciousness so they don't need a guru to do it for them. 

MU: Do you think your use of drugs undermines your credibility?

RAW: There are periods of history when the visions of madmen and dope fiends are a better guide to reality than the common-sense interpretation of data available to the so-called normal mind. This is one such period, if you haven't noticed already.

MU: And how do you see the future? Rosy? Black? Indeterminate?

RAW: I guess it's indeterminate, but the possibility of a rosy future is at least as real as the possibility of a black future, so I prefer to put my imagination and will and energy into making the rosy future come true.

MU: Thanks for your time. Do you have a final message you want to leave? Anything you want to add about your own death?

RAW: I think I got off on the wrong planet… Beam me up Scotty, there's no rational life here!

MU: Seriously?

RAW: Pardon my levity, I don't see how to take death seriously. It seems absurd. I look forward without dogmatic optimism, but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying.

MU: What does that mean? Mr. Wilson? Mr. Wilson! Don’t go – I have so many questions!

Robert Anton Wilson has left the planet. 

Robert Anton Wilson, 1932-2007. This interview was conducted after his death through the arcane power of paraphrasement. All thoughts used belong to Mr. Wilson.

Pascal's Wager & the Agnostic's Lemma

Godsdice The remarkable Persian chronicler, Ibn Rustah, reported in the thirteenth century that a monarch in the Caucasus had decided to observe Muslim, Jewish and Christian rites equally. Apparently, the king declared: “I have decided to hedge my bets.”

This is the earliest recorded reference to a piece of metaphysical mathematics usually referred to as Pascal’s Wager – a bullying tactic used in modern times principally by evangelical Christians to attempt to force their belief system upon other people. The essence of this proposition from a Christian perspective, formulated in the seventeenth century by the noted mathematician Blaise Pascal (although variations have been found in a variety of religions throughout history) is as follows:

Either God exists or he does not. If he does exist and you believe in him, you gain eternal life. If he exists and you don’t believe in him, you risk eternal damnation. If he doesn’t exist, your gain and losses are finite and therefore negligible. 

The logic behind Pascal’s Wager, therefore, is that one could use Game Theory (a field to which Pascal was a heavy contributor) to show that the option of believing in God dominates the decision matrix that results. 

To anyone tired of dealing with boorish evangelicals (and yes, there are other kinds!) who invoke this principle, there are two quick and easy defences. The first is for atheists, although agnostics may use it too. It is known as the Atheist’s Wager, and the principle is as follows:

The best bet is to live your life with a focus on making the world a better place. If there is no God, you will have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent God, he will judge you on your merits and not just on whether or not you believed in him. 

The Atheist’s Wager in effect rejects the Protestant principle of sola fide, and most evangelicals will respond by saying that good works alone are not sufficient to win God’s favour. For this reason, I suggest the following response to Pascal’s Wager, which I call the Agnostic’s Lemma. It works as follows:

Any number divided by itself yields unity. While it may be the case that the stakes of this decision are infinite, I believe that there are an infinite number of possible religions – the many different sects that exist today, in all their varieties, and many more to come in the future. Since infinity divided by infinity gives unity, choosing a religion becomes a metaphysical lottery where the infinitely high gain of winning is offset by the infinitesimally low odds of choosing the winning religion. I therefore choose to remain agnostic. 

A lighter version of the Agnostic’s Lemma is found in Homer Simpson’s comment: “But Marge, what if we picked the wrong religion? Every week, we're just making God madder and madder!”

Pascal’s Wager proceeds from the assumption that there is one and only one true religion. While people are free to believe this, we are also free to believe (as the Sufi do) that every religion reveals an aspect of a divine truth – that rather than God hiding a winning lottery ticket in one and only one religious doctrine, a more intricate divine plan beyond our understanding guides our diverse metaphysical realities. While a prophet may share a glimpse of the divine, any human is flawed and incapable of understanding the immensity of a divine plan conceived by an unknowable entity of infinite capacity. 

This is part of a principle I call NUTMOG – No-one Understands the Mind of God. NUTMOG is a strong defence against any attempts at belligerent evangelism, or exclusionary metaphysics. (Atheists who can handle a pantheistic metaphysics should treat ‘God’ in this proposition as the God of Spinoza, which was Einstein’s position, or perhaps replace the phrase with ‘no-one can determine metaphysical answers by a process of measurement’). 

I am not opposed to evangelism, per se. I have fond childhood memories of friends of my parents setting up their musical instruments in the town square of Newport, Isle of Wight, and singing their jaunty songs of praise and worship. They would talk to anyone who stopped to listen, but they would not foist their beliefs on others. It helped that they were all “free range” Christians – part of the house group movement, not affiliated with a single doctrine. They lived happily, and just wanted to share that happiness with others.

In general, however, I feel that the fundamentalist evangelicalism prevalent in the United States is ill conceived. Even accepting the basic tenets of a hard-line Christian faith that presumes the Bible is precisely factual, the case for forceful evangelism is questionable. It proceeds from what is referred to as the Great Commission, found in some form in each of the Gospels. Here’s the version from Matthew 28:16-20:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

The centrepiece of this instruction, therefore, is to teach people what Jesus commanded. And what did Jesus command? One and only one thing. John 13:34-35:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. 

The instruction to ‘make disciples of all nations’ is therefore an instruction to teach the nations of the world to have love for one another – which indeed would be a way towards peace on Earth, and goodwill to men.

If one believes the Great Commission was an instruction to spread the word of Jesus around the world, then this mission appears to be concluded. Today, especially in the age of the internet, the teachings of Jesus are very widely distributed, and most people are well aware of the basics of this ministry. Indeed, Christianity is currently the most popular religion in the world. As far as spreading the good news goes, this part of the evangelist’s mission is (arguably) concluded. All that is left is loving one another, as Jesus did.

This is the view of the post-evangelical movement, which sees a Christian’s relationship with God and their fellow man as the most meaningful aspect of Christianity, and rejects any formulation of Christianity which leads to exclusionism and bigotry, since these are not an expression of love. 

It will be an uphill battle to convince committed evangelicals that their mission is concluded, and freedom of belief means that they always have the choice to continue what they’re doing if that’s what they wish, but perhaps the following argument, which might be called the Post-Evangelist’s Gambit, can be used to some effect: 

Your goal is to convert people to Christianity. If you attempt to do so using tactics that people find boorish and belligerent, it will have the opposite effect and disincline them from choosing Christianity. Therefore, the best way to achieve the goals of evangelism is to live a life of love and service to the community, thus demonstrating God’s love and the truth of Jesus’ teachings through your own actions. 

If these responses to Pascal’s Wager do not sway the committed evangelist, perhaps at the very least they will ease the burden of anyone bored of being harassed by them. Freedom of belief protects our right to choose, but it does not excuse boorish behaviour. Religion should inspire people to great deeds, not obligate them to annoy their neighbours.

I Like Your Shoes

Change_your_shoes It’s Atheists versus Theists in a battle to out respect the other side in this Only a Game minigame! Next week, it’ll be back to the usual activities, although an outbreak of unexpected philosophy is always a risk. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this prime slice of nonsense!

Disclaimer: This game is for entertainment purposes only, and should not be used to establish the outcome of any struggle, real or imagined, between atheists and theists!

How to Play

  1. Players decide whether they are declaring for the Theists or the Atheists. They then post a comment stating their allegiance as ‘Theist’ or ‘Atheist’ to make it clear whether they are joining ‘Team God’ or ‘Team Chance’. (I will referee). If you identify a religion, feel free to mention it.
  2. The play of the game is about naming living people with opposite metaphysical beliefs whom you respect. You don’t have to respect them for their metaphysics – you can respect them for any reason at all. For instance, you might respect an actor’s talent, an artist’s creativity or a humanitarian’s compassion. Players may name any number of people with opposite metaphysics whom they respect – but the people named must be famous (that is, other players must have a chance of knowing who they are) and they must be alive. I will rule on any ambiguous cases regarding fame, life or metaphysical stance.
  3. Players may also veto submissions by people on their same team! For instance, if someone playing for the Atheists names a famous Sikh athlete and another person playing on the same team doesn’t like said athlete, they may veto them. This effectively costs their team a point, so use your veto power with caution!
  4. Scoring:
  • When Theist players name an atheist they respect, they score 1 point.
  • When Atheist players name a theist they respect, they score 1 point.
  1. The game will end one morning this week chosen in advance by me, but kept secret to prevent last minute ballot stuffing. The winning team will be whichever has named more people with opposite metaphysics whom they respect.

And remember, this is just for fun!


If you are an agnostic, you can still play. However, you must pick whether to play for the Theists or the Atheists – simply identify yourself accordingly e.g. ‘Agnostic, playing for the Atheists’. As an agnostic, you cannot veto but instead you have a special power: once per game, you can change sides and join the other team. Simply declare: “I’m converting!” and state your new team. This makes it easier for an agnostic to win, but the true moral victory is to win with the team you begin with. Or is it…? You’ll have to make up your own mind. 

Additional Rulings

  • For the purposes of this game, Buddhists count as atheists.

Final Score

Theists 11, Atheists 5

Atheists respected by theists: Bertrand Russell (died 1970), Douglas Adams (died 2001) , Jean Luc Godard, Noam Chomsky, John Carmack, Les Kaye, Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (died 1966), Tenzin Gyatso (the fourteenth Dalai Lama), Joss Whedon, Iain Banks, Richard Dawkins (!), James Randi, Penn Jillette, Terry Pratchett

Theists respected by atheists: Canon Roger Royle, Hans Küng, Robert Runcie (died 2000), Richard Holloway, Rowan Williams, Rupert Sheldrake.

Concluding Remarks

This minigame is now concluded. It seems that while the atheists were very quick to stand up and be counted, they couldn't actually find theists they respected, while the Theist team dug deep and came up with a good crowd of atheists that they held in high regard. I was shocked that no-one on the Atheist team named anyone Jewish - there are so many respected entertainers of  Jewish faith I felt sure someone would be mentioned...

Thanks to everyone for taking part! And congratulations to the Theists - worthy winners, and clearly better at respecting people with different beliefs than Team Chance - at least in this particular match! :) However, since every agnostic joined the Atheist team, it seems that the Theists have something of a PR problem. Both sides clearly have things they could work on.

Comments to this post are now closed, but you can comment on the game in the Future of Metaphysics bookend post, if you like.