When Did Tabletop Become Analogue Game Design?

tabletop_analog_game_design I’m thrilled to report a new book edited by Drew Davidson and Greg Costikyan entitled Tabletop: Analog Game Design. It’s a collection of essays by both pen-and-paper and digital game designers about tabletop game design. (I’m a little disappointed Greg didn’t mention it to me when we met up in Seattle, actually! He knows I like my board games…) Amazon has it as an ebook and the publisher, ETC,  is offering it as a paperback from Lulu.

But I have to ask: when did ‘tabletop game design’ become ‘analogue game design’? This may sound odd – obviously boardgames are not digital, so shouldn’t they be labelled analogue? Well remember that analogue is an adjective that was originally used to describe electrical or mechanical devices in which the variable elements had continuous rather than discrete values. There didn’t used to be a sense in which everything that wasn’t digital could be labelled analogue – now it seems a book can be called an analogue ebook, perhaps even an organic tree can be called an analogue tree, as opposed to those digital trees in the fictional world of your games.

While I can’t support this shift in the language, it is extremely indicative of the extent to which computer technology has permeated every aspect of our lives. I’ll be picking up on this point in a little more detail at the end of the month.

Open Letter to Yehuda

Dear Yehuda,

I've been meaning to engage you in a discussion on your views on games for a while now, since at least the time you posted the interesting proposal to have videogames share their rules with the players (perfectly possible and perfectly sensible, by the way). In this case, I began to write a reply in your comments but it radically became an uncontrollable ramble, so I have moved it here. Perhaps I can interest you in a brief exchange of perspectives?

In your piece, Watching vs Performing vs Mastering, you say there are two distinct aspects to boardgaming:

These are: luck and strategy. Passive and active entertainment. Watching and performing.

I'm going to raise some points of dispute here, and it comes from two sources. Firstly, your reducing on the one hand alea (games of chance) to passive or watching, which in my estimation undersells this form of play radically; and on the other hand, the characterisation of active entertainment/performing as being strategic - which reads to me as picking out one particular activity over others.

Ultimately, we're going to accord in your conclusion of different players enjoying different things, so really this is just my nitpicking of minutiae in the hope that something I offer is interesting!

1. Are games of chance passive?

You want to make the claim here that a game of pure chance (Caillois' alea) is passive, and can be compared to watching a movie. I believe you are phenomenologically mistaken here. I can well believe that for you this claim is true, but this does not describe this kind of play universally for other people. The participant in a game of chance is psychologically invested in a play-activity which for them has agency (albeit, in an apparently illusory fashion). The throw of the dice is their action. It does not involve any calculation or decision (i.e. it does not involve deploying the orbito-frontal cortex), but it is still worlds apart from the pure mimicry of theatre, film and book storytelling, in which the participant has no action or agency at all.

You can see this clearly in role-playing games. The player recalling a good session does not recount the actions of their character as if they were recounting a story they read, they recount the actions of themselves in the fictional world – and the die rolling is as much a part of this experience of ownership over the outcome as the decision making. For many players, it is more important. This is not a form of passive entertainment at all – one is taking the action and discovering the unknown outcome for oneself. Similarly, if you think the player of a lottery scratchcard is enjoying passive entertainment I encourage you to look more closely!

The same, I will claim, is true of the role of chance in boardgames and card games. Yes, I'll grant you, that there is a distinction to be made here between the enjoyment of the ebb and flow of chance and deliberative play, but I cannot endorse “passive” as characteristic of the former. To describe the compulsive gambler as addicted to a passive entertainment is a very strange claim indeed!

2. Is all active entertainment strategic?

I also find troubling your suggestion that the “active” aspect of boardgames can be understood as expressly strategic. I'll try and put aside the fact that I use strategic as one of many in a suite of terms for player skills, and focus on how you deploy the word: as a description of the act of decision making (or calculation) within a game i.e. the action of the orbito-frontal cortex, which I term the decision centre in virtue of its key cognitive function.

You write:

When you're called upon to think or make a decision, you are enjoying active entertainment. There are different levels of active entertainment, from the simple (trivia: do I know it or not?) to the complex (how do I get my battalion to that base?). Regardless of complexity, you can rank better or worse players, and most of the time you can work to improve yourself.

So you distinguish here between (say) trivia and the decisions of a strategy game. But wait one moment – should you really be conflating trivia with decision-oriented play? Trivia is a form of memory play, like the game Memory and its ilk, although one based on one's long-term aggregation of information rather than short or mid-term memory. You call this simple – and in terms of decisions it surely is simple, it doesn't involve the decision centre at all except, perhaps, when judging between competing memory fragments. But I would suggest that it shouldn't be considered under the framework of decisions at all. (I'll certainly bet the hypothalamus is the main activated brain region in trivia games, not the orbito-frontal cortex).

Neither is the only aspect of boardgame play which is essentially decisionless, or at least, for which decisions play a lesser role. PitchCar is based on a physical skill, for instance, although one might object in this case that there is a decision element in that one can attempt clever moves on the track. But take Jenga or even KerPlunk – yes, there may be a decision (which block or stick do I remove?) but it's a miserly take on all these games to suggest that this is what the play is about for the players. It in effect ignores the physical dexterity element of these games to characterise their play as being “strategic”.

And so too with Pictionary or Oddles of Doodles, and here the required skill has changed in character quite considerably, as the ability generating play here is that of communicating with the other player(s) via pictures rather than words. This requires more than just decision making skills, it requires an ability to conceptualize the other player's mental framework sufficiently in order to determine the best way to get an idea across to them. Decisions are involved in this, certainly, but characterizing those decisions as “strategic” seems to miss what is interesting about them.

Concluding Remarks

I write these challenges to your piece in the full knowledge that your ideas were not meant as a grand theory, but rather an exposition inspired by your thoughts on various matters relating to boardgames. I hope you will take this exploration in the spirit it was intended, as a stepping point to perhaps expand both your and my own future thinking in this regard.

We are in agreement that there are different forces at work in play, which result in players enjoying different activities. Also, I agree with you (in respect of the latter half of your piece) that it is unfair to cRPGs to suggest there is not a skill element to be mastered. Indeed, part of the appeal of the very form for its staunchest adherents seems to lie in the player's systematic tackling of the vast array of questions relating to the efficient options for advancement. That it is possible to substitute mere quantity of time for this kind of problem-solving in order to progress is one of the great strengths of this form of game. Would that other games had this safety net in place to help the “amateur” or new player from getting stuck!

You are and remain my favourite commentator on the subject of boardgames, and I continue to enjoy your blog for the unique perspective it brings to bear on the subject.


Only a Game

The Twittering of Sparrows

This post forms part of the October Round Table.

Tiles1a My earliest memories of playing games with my family were not videogames, but board and card games. We played many things, but none stands out in a nostalgic glow quite as dazzling as Mah Jong. Originating in China, this game is similar in many respects to rummy (in that it involves collecting sets) but both the play and the aesthetics of the pieces are vastly different.  The game remains popular among Chinese people around the world, as well as (oddly) Jewish women in New York, and the rules vary somewhat according to where you play, but the appeal of the game to those who have fallen under its spell is undeniable.

(I should explain, before we proceed, that the game most people associate with the name ‘Mah Jong’ is a solitaire game more properly called Mah Jong solitaire or Shanghai. Although it uses the same tiles, it is otherwise utterly different from the game the tiles belong to).

My earliest memories of playing are in my Nan’s bungalow, which my father had built for her by converting the garage next to the house we lived in on the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of the British Isles. I don’t know how old I was when I first joined in the games, but I suspect I was less than ten. The Maj Jong tiles and the wooden racks (for organising the tiles – unlike most Chinese players who somehow keep the tiles in their hand) lived on the top of a cupboard at one end of the lounge, and so had to be gently brought down and ceremoniously laid upon the table before we could begin.

We emptied the tiles out of the box. I think we used to play with an old ivory and bamboo set – not exactly politically correct these days, but impressively luxurious all the same. The tiles, each about half the size of a match box, were laid out on the table upside down in order to be “washed” before each hand. The players sweep the tiles around on the table, and as they collide they produce a gentle clattering – the Chinese call it “the twittering of sparrows”, and indeed the name “mah jong” means “the game of Sparrows”.

Once the tiles were suitably shuffled, we built the walls. Each player would line up two tiers of tiles against their rack, like stones being laid upon one another. Once the four walls were built, the players manoeuvred each into position creating a perfectly square set of walls. Traditionally, the walls had to be secure as when the dice are rolled a gap in the wall might cause some spirit or dragon to interfere with the destiny of the game (or at least, so Maj Jong folklore says – the game is actually only one hundred and fifty years old, although it has antecedent games that are far older).

One player, East wind, who had been selected at random before the wall is built, rolled dice to determine where the wall was to be broken, after which the tiles were dealt to each player. At first, Mah Jong tiles seem impossibly exotic when you are used to the standard deck of cards. Even the three minor suits – circles, bamboo and “characters” (which are marked with Chinese kanji characters showing numbers in increments of ten thousand) – have an esoteric quality, but this is dwarfed by the charm of the major tiles – the four winds, red, green and white dragon, and the seasons and flowers which provide additional bonuses. A high quality Mah Jong set is a work of art.

For a long time, I really didn’t know what I was doing in the game, but I enjoyed playing with my family all the same. Gradually, I began to appreciate that the key to the basic game is the value of the different combinations of tiles – a pung (three of a kind) in dragons, for instance, doubles your final score. There are many such sets which produce a double, and accumulating these creates a very great range of differences in your final score. In fact, Mah Jong players traditionally play with a limit (1,000 points in the official British rules) so the challenge becomes trying to achieve a limit hand.

At University, when I rediscovered my love of the game, I also opened the door to the ultimate challenge in the game. Most versions of the Mah Jong rules include a number of special hands with romantic names like Imperial Jade, The Wriggling Snake and the 13 Unique Treasures, most of which are worth a limit score. Not every player uses these rules – my family never did – but once you start playing with the special hands the landscape of the game is transformed. Not only can you aim for a high score through conventional means, you can be tempted to shoot for a rare special hand – you don’t get them often, but the score benefit is so high that even the attempt becomes worthwhile. The excitement one feels when you are ‘fishing’ (waiting for your last tile) in order to complete a special hand is comparable only to that moment in Poker when the turn of the next card could give you the nuts (the best possible hand). Utterly intoxicating.

Mah Jong remains one of my favourite games. The beauty of a well-made set of tiles; the formal ritualism of the washing of the tiles and the construction of the wall; the progression of East wind around the table (which has serious effects, as East wind pays and receives double – making it a potential benefit, but also a giant liability); the excitement of fishing for a limit hand, and the joyous fiero of achieving a special hand – all combine to make this game not only a cherished part of my memories of childhood, but also a continuing source of pleasure throughout my life.

A videogame can be a marvellous thing, but few electronic games have given me the wealth and longevity of enjoyment as Mah Jong. It was one of many gifts that my family gave me that I continue to treasure to this day.

Interested in trying Mah Jong? I heartily recommend the book "Mah Jong" published by A & C Black of London (1994), ISBN 0 7136 3742 0, which describes the British Mah Jong Association’s rules for the game, which are my personal favourite. You’ll also need a set of tiles, which you can find at any good boardgame store.

Knockout Poker

PlayingcardsThis game was originally called Mexican Poker, but to avoid confusion with other games with the same name I have renamed it to Knockout Poker. Like Indian Poker, it has very little to do with Poker! It was designed for one simple purpose: to be played while queuing up for rides at a theme park, and originally played more than a decade ago at Alton Towers, the UK's biggest theme park. It has the benefit of not requiring any materials other than the deck of cards and players (most card games require at least a table) and is a great time waster for when you are waiting in line with a lot of friends. It's a game of simple negotiation, with excitement, relief and schadenfreude being the primary emotions of play.

How to Play

The basis of Knockout Poker is to survive each round of play by having the group agree to a value that is between the two cards you have been dealt. It requires at least 5 players, and is better the more players you have. The maximum number of players is 26, but 7-9 is optimal.

Here's a step-by-step description of the order of play:

  1. Deal two cards to each player. Your goal in each round is to steer the group towards agreeing a number between the values of your two cards, or equal to one of their values, e.g. if you are dealt a 4 and a 10 the round number must be 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 for you to survive. A is high, and 2 is low, so if you are dealt an A-2 you can't lose, while if you are dealt 7-7 you will only survive the round if the agreed number is 7.
  2. Players then negotiate verbally to agree the number for the current round. Negotiations end when half of the players (round up) agree to the same number, so with 7 players you need 4 for consensus, and with 6 players you need 3. See below for tips on negotiating.
  3. Once the number is agreed by the required number of players, those players reveal their cards immediately to confirm a consensus has been reached, and to end the round. Everyone then reveals their cards. Anyone whose card range include the number chosen survives the round - everyone else loses a life. (You can use a three letter word for lives, so the first time you use a life you gain a "d", say, then an "o" then a "g" at which point you are knocked out).
  4. Repeat from step 1, bearing in mind that when you lose a player the number of players required for a consensus will change.
  5. The game ends when there are only two remaining players - both these players win.

Tips on Negotiating

How do you negotiate for the number? Well there are no rules about this other than the negotiations ending when half the player agree and then reveal their cards. Here are some useful tips.

  • It's good to start vague, so you can begin by saying things like "something high, I think" or "perhaps we should go low". This encourages other people to make vague statements which will clue you in to the general state of play.
  • You obviously want to form a consensus that will allow you to survive, so you need to pay attention to where everyone else is aiming and see where the power block is. Sometimes you will see the momentum is against you and there will be little you can do, but often you can influence the negotiations slightly.
  • You may find yourself in a situation where survival is impossible. In this situation you can either try and cause the players with the most remaining lives to lose, or you can try and cause as many players as possible to lose lives. If you can find other players who are in your predicament, you may be able to form a "spite consensus". Aiming for A or 2 is usually the best bet in this case, as few people will have the highest or lowest card in their hand.
  • Bluffing is an important part of the game. Once you have noticed that people are negotiating against you (especially when you are well in the lead in terms of lives) you can trick them by trying to negotiate for a number you don't actually want - e.g. suggesting a high number when you really want a low number. Carefully played, you can bluff your way through to surviving a round.
  • While it is dirty play to actively bribe players, or to threaten them, you will catch more flies with sugar: be nice to the other players and they will be more likely to co-operate with you.

This game is so simple to learn, and easy to remember, that you can teach it to anyone. Bring a deck of cards the next time you're going somewhere with a large group of friends and expecting to be in a long line and give it a go. Have fun!

Big Two: Rules


The following are the rules that my wife and I use to play the popular Asian card game Big Two (or Choh Dai Di). There are many variations of this game, and these rules should certainly not be considered definitive! I hope you will give the game a try – let me know in the comments if you do.

How to Play

The basis of Big Two is a race to get rid of your cards. It supports 2, 3 or 4 players with one deck, and up to 8 players with two decks shuffled together. You will be dealt 13 cards in each game, and you can play these cards in four different ways: 

  • As Singles (just one card)
  • As Pairs (two cards of matching values)
  • As Triplets or “Trips” (three cards of matching values)
  • As Poker Hands (five cards forming a straight, flush, full house, four of a kind or straight flush)

Note: you must play a fifth card with four of a kind to make a legitimate five card poker hand. 

The game consists of a number of hands, each consisting of a number of rounds. Each hand begins by the players being dealt 13 cards (deal passes to the left after each hand).

The player who is dealt the 3 of Diamonds starts each hand (see below for how to discover this), and must make a play involving this card to begin the first round. For instance, they could just play the 3 of Diamonds as a single, or if they had a straight involving this 3, they could lead with that.

(If no-one has the 3 of Diamonds, the player with the next lowest card leads with that instead).

Whichever type of play is led, the next player clockwise around the table must play a higher card (or combination of cards) of the same type – for instance, if the player with the 3 of Diamonds plays a pair of 3’s to start the round, the next player must play a pair of a higher value.

Players can choose to pass if they don’t want to play, and must pass if they cannot play. When all other players have passed, the last player to successfully make a play has possession and can begin a new round with whatever play they wish. 

Whatever type of play begins a round, all subsequent plays must be of the same type – for instance, if a player begins a round with a straight, the next player must play a higher straight or a better poker hand (e.g. a flush, full house, four of a kind or a straight flush).

The hand ends when someone successfully plays their last card. The winning player scores one point for each card in every other player’s hand, and this score is doubled for each 2 in the final play – for instance, if the player goes out with a pair of 2’s, their score is multiplied by 4 (2x2), and if they go out with four of a kind in 2’s their score is multiplied by 16 (2x2x2x2). 

Play to 49 points or whatever score you choose.


Order of Precedence

The game is called Big Two because the highest card you can play is a 2 – that is, the order of values in this games goes 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, A, 2. Nothing beats a 2. 

Furthermore, the suits are ranked in the following order (from bottom to top): Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts, Spades. Therefore, the lowest card in the game is the 3 of Diamonds, and the highest card is the 2 of Spades. Mr Choh Dai Di

Example: In a round of singles, if a player leads the King of Clubs, the next player can follow with a higher ranked King (King of Hearts or Spades), or a higher ranked card of any suit (an Ace or a Two).

To remember the order of the suits, imagine Mr. Choh Dai Di, pictured right:

He has a Spade on his head
Below the head, you find his Heart
He suffers from a Club foot
And has Diamonds on the soles of his shoes

All plays are ranked on the basis of the highest card in the play, except as follows: 

  • Full houses are ranked on the basis of the three matching cards, never the two – for instance, a full house of sevens full of aces (3 x 7, 2 x A) is considered a full house of sevens, not of aces, so you can play (for instance) a full house of nines full of threes to beat it.
  • Four of a kinds are ranked on the basis of the four matching cards, never the “kicker” – for instance, four sixes with a two can be followed by four eights with a four, because eight beats four.

Examples of legitimate plays: 

  • Following a pair of Jacks consisting of the Jack of Diamonds and Jack of Hearts, another player could play a pair of Jacks consisting of the Jack of Clubs and the Jack of Spades because the first pair’s highest card was Jack of Hearts and the Jack of Spades beats the Jack of      Hearts.
  • Following a straight consisting of A, K, Q, J and 10 in various suits (with the Ace being a Spade) you couldn’t play A, K, Q, J, 10 (because Ace of Spades is the top Ace) but you could play 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 with any suits, as any Two beats any Ace. The highest straight, therefore, would be A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 with the Two being the Two of Spades.


Total Information versus Uncertainty 

If this game is played with four players, all the cards are in play (as in Bridge) so it becomes a total information game. Played this way, the game requires more thoughtful planning and the application of memory to recall what has been played. I hate playing games this way, and so I prefer to play with two or three players.

When there are undealt cards in a hand (as happens when there are fewer than four players), no-one knows for certain which cards will win at any point. This uncertainty makes play more fluid (less time spent thinking) and intuitive, but the game is still fiendishly competitive – one can really shaft the other player in heads-up play with skilful choices. 

To play with four players and uncertainty, use two decks of cards. When playing with more than one deck, you still must play higher than the previous play, so if the previous player plays the 2 of Spades, you must pass, even if you have another 2 of Spades in your hand.


Determining Who Starts 

At the beginning of each hand, it is necessary to determine who has the 3 of Diamonds. In a four player game, the player with this card simply declares it. In two or three player games, the following kind of communication can reveal the player who must lead:

  • If your hand doesn’t include the 3 of Diamonds say “I don’t have the 3 of Diamonds” or “I don’t have it”
  • If no-one has the 3 of Diamonds, but you have a 3 of another suit say “I have a three”. Cycle through the 3’s in sequence (Clubs, Hearts, Spades) until the lead card is found.
  • If you have no threes, say “I have no threes.” If no-one has any threes, repeat this process with the fours and so on until the lead card is found.

For example: 

Alan’s lowest card is the 4 of Spades, and Christie’s lowest card is the 4 of Clubs. Alan sees he has no 3’s and says “I don’t have it”. Christie sees the same and says “Neither do I”. Alan replies: “I don’t have any threes” to which Christie says “neither do I”. Alan asks: “do you have a four?” Christie replies: “yes”. Alan knows his four is the 4 of Spades – the highest four – so by definition, Christie must lead. “Lead with your lowest four, then,” Alan says.


Optional Advice on Organising Your Hand 

When you first play Big Two, it can be confusing working out how to organise your hand. Should you break up pairs to make a straight, for instance? Here is my advice on how to organise your hand.

  • Start by checking for flushes – do you have five cards of the same suit? And, just as importantly: what will the rest of your hand look like if you form a flush? It’s no good having a poker hand if you don’t have any means of gaining possession (a two, or a pair of aces, say) as you probably won’t get to play it.
  • If you have a lot of pairs, and especially if some of your pairs are highly ranked, it may be best to aim to play in pairs: other players often run out of pairs, and once they have no pairs you can play the rest of your pairs unopposed.
  • Other players don’t often have trips, so you can usually win a round with any triplet. You can also make a triplet into a full house by adding a pair, and have a great chance that no-one will beat you – but you can be caught out by a higher full house, a four of a kind or a straight flush!
  • Every game is likely to include at least one round of singles, because few hands can be fully disposed of without ditching a lot of singles. However, there might only be one or two rounds of singles – if  your hand consists mostly of singles, you will struggle to go out. If you have a good single (a high two, for instance) that could get you possession, you can try forming straights or flushes to ditch as many cards as possible easily.
  • Victory in this game is about winning rounds so you gain possession and can control the type of play in the next round, therefore you should plan your hand in whatever way gives you the best chances of winning rounds. For instance, a pair of Aces has a good chance of being the highest play in a pairs round, but a straight with an Ace in it might be beaten by almost any other poker hand.
  • Similarly, three Twos seems like an awesome play, but it may be better to play them as singles or a pair and a single as this will win you possession more often.

Lastly, don’t forget that however you organise your hand after the deal, you can reorganise your hand to play differently whenever the need arises. For instance, if another player just played a weak straight (say, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3), check your hand to see if you can make a better straight – and decide if this would be a better play than passing. 

It’s these tricky decisions on how to play your hand that are at the heart of the play of Big Two – do you hold onto your twos to try and go out with them for the bonus multiplier, or do you use them to win rounds? The choice is yours!

With thanks to John McLeod for the rules I used to learn to play, Matt Mower for pointing them out to me, and my wife for beating me so often at it!

If you decide to give Big Two a try, do let me know in the comments! It’s a great two player game, which makes it easy to give it a try as you only need to find one other person to play with. I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with learning the game from these rules, and I'll check back in a month to see if anyone has been giving it a go. Have fun!

Introducing: Big Two

Do you know a version of the card game Big Two? Please leave a comment if you do.

Playingcards To take some of the pressure off the relentless pace of the Serials on Thursdays, I'm adding Card Games as a flipside option for the Thursday slot. This will provide opportunities not only to learn and study different card games, but also to explore the design elements of games that run on the most ubiquitous games hardware on the planet: a deck of cards. Any game designer who has never designed a card game is a fraud! There, I said it...

The first game I want to look at is hugely popular in East and South East Asia, and particularly in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. The game is usually referred to as Big Two in English, or Choh Dai Di (or just Dai Di) in Cantonese, but as with all card games, names vary depending upon who you speak to. At heart, Big Two is a climbing or shedding game like Crazy Eights or the charmingly vulgar-titled game of Asshole, which is popular among students on many different continents.

Players are dealt thirteen cards, with the objective of getting rid of all the cards in a series of rounds. Each round is played either in singles (lone cards), pairs, triplets or in five-card poker hands, with a strict sequence specifying which cards (or combinations of cards) are higher than each other. Unusually for card games, the lowest card is a 3 (specifically, the 3 of Diamonds) and the highest card is a 2 (specifically, the 2 of Spades) - hence the name, Big Two (Dai Di).

I will be writing my own version of the rules in a future week, but anyone who can't wait can check the version of the rules I used to learn the game, which can be found here. My thanks to Matt Mower for bringing this game to my attention in the first place.

I would like to set the arbitrary goal of teaching at least a dozen people to play this delightfully evil card game, which although intended to be played by four players scales down to an excellent two player version. To begin with I must ask: does anybody already know this game?

Please leave a comment if you are already a Big Two/Choh Dai Di player. Thank you!

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.