2000 Year-End Review

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At the end of each year, we’re going to look back on the games and (hopefully) post another variant for each one, as well as any random thoughts that may come to mind.

I really meant to say more here, but I think I’ve used up all of my clever thoughts in the comments below, so without further ado: The first annual Invisible City Productions Games District Year-End Review!

The Games

Find the originals in the games section or using the .


Variant

Humans! For every one Dinosaur and three Mammals, you can add one Human to the mix. Unlike Dinosaurs and Mammals, Humans can not tag with their body. Instead, Humans are armed with “spears” (i.e.: water noodles) with which they can tag out the other players. Only tags made with the tip of the spear are valid; slaps with the side of the spear do not count as tags. Dinosaurs and Mammals may attempt to deflect the spear, but may not grab the spear.

When a Human tags a Mammal, the tagged Mammal becomes a Human. When a Mammal tags a Human, the tagged Human becomes a Mammal.

Commentary

I like Dinosaurs and Mammals a lot, and I hope to get two more “active” games posted here soon. One of them uses water noodles, and thinking about them is what caused me to think of this variant for Dinosaurs and Mammals. I’ve received reports of children playing Dinosaurs and Mammals as far away as Ireland! That’s so keen!


Variants

Four-players: Instead of playing on a 5×10 field, the game takes place on a 10×10 field with each player starting in one of the corners. You can play individually or in teams. If playing in teams, put teammates in opposing corners so that no team gets two turns in a row.

Co-operation: In a two- or four-player game, you can choose to play cooperatively instead of competitively. The new object is to fill in as many squares as possible. To make the game even more challenging, you can prohibit communication between the players until the game is over.

Commentary

Once I played this game by using a deck of cards to lay out a 5×10 grid, using pennies as mines, and with two bottlecaps as playing pieces. We were outside on a paved area and didn’t have any pencil or paper.

There are many excellent sites which discuss the Knight’s Tour problem that this game is based on. This site is particularly notable because it focuses on a 5×5 grid, one-half of a standard Manic Minelayers board.


Variants

Fiddler’s Gambit: Instead of starting the game with three pennies, plus two additional pennies for each player, the game starts with two pennies and a nickel, plus two pennies for each additional player. When canceling a player’s coins, you must cancel any pennies they have before canceling the nickel. Instead of getting points for every penny you have at the end of each round, the player with the nickel just scores one point. The first player with as many points as the number of players wins.

King of the Hill: If you win a round and you won the previous round, then you may make up a rule. A majority of the players must agree to the rule for it to take effect. The rule takes effect at the beginning of the next round.

Commentary

When I was back in State College, PA, a few months ago, I discovered that my friends there had created a variation of Seven Pennies using six-sided dice. Their game has mutated so much that I feel it deserves an entry of its own. You should be seeing it in the Games District in a few months…

One of Jeremy’s friends is a bartender in New York City, and she introduced some of her patrons to this game to pass the time. I get entirely too much amusement out of thinking that there are mildly drunk people playing this game in a bar somewhere.


Variant

Joker’s Rules: Do not remove the Jokers from the deck during setup.

  • When a player plays the Red Joker, it acts as an exact copy of the previous card played.
  • When a player plays a Black Joker, it forces the previous player to play again without changing the direction of play.

Commentary

Although it really goes without saying, it’s easy to make up other effects for the Jokers. Just take care not to make their effects overpowered…

A lot of people have criticized Up & Over for being too random, not having enough strategy. I disagree with them. Now, I don’t deny that the game has a fair share of chance, but there are very specific strategies that you can use to optimize your chances of taking tricks. The easiest strategy is to dump your high cards when you can and keep your low cards for when you need them, or to keep one high card and a face card to offset the risk it creates. There’s more to playing the game than this, but I can tell you that a player with a strategy fares much better than one who plays at random.


Even more Variable Cards:

  • Yoink! Choose a player. Take a randomly selected card from him or her and put it in your hand.
  • ARF (Abort, Retry, Fail): Play immediately after a player has rolled for a Goal. The player who just rolled must ignore the result and re-roll that roll.
  • Anti-Matter Flux! Play when a player has banked points on a Goal. The points that were just banked on the Goal are retroactively subtracted from the Goal instead of added to it. If this reduces the number of points on the goal to less than zero, then discard the Goal.
  • Embrace Diversity: Play during the Play a Card step. The number of differently colored Goals needed to win is increased by one.
  • Robin Hood: All players with more than one completed Goal must move one of their choice from their Treasure Pile back to the center of the table. All players who did not have to return a Goal to the center get one die from each player. The player giving the die gets to choose which one to relinquish.
  • Revolt! All players must roll all of their dice and tally them. The player with the highest total must give one die to each other player.
  • Double Bonus Round: Double any points you bank on Goals this turn.
  • Study Session: Go through the Draw deck and take a card from it into your hand. Shuffle the Draw deck when you’re done.
  • Unity is Strength: All players must roll their dice. Starting with you and proceeding clockwise, each player may roll one die. The first player who has the same number showing on all of his or her dice gets one die from each other player. The player giving the die gets to choose which one to relinquish.


Variant

Three or more players: If you try to play with more than two players on a standard board, you’ll find that things tend to get a bit crowded. To alleviate this crowding, just draw the first board as you normally would, then extend two of the interior border lines just a little past the outer edge of the playing field. Connect these two lines with another irregular line to make a second blank field like the irregular shape that was used to make the first playing area. Set this second blank field up in the same way as you set up the first one. You should end up with one large Abs-Trac-Toe board composed of two smaller boards that share an irregular side. Play as you normally would.

Commentary

I like the artistic aspects of this game. A while back, Sharon and I played a game on black construction paper with special construction-paper crayons in green and orange. It looked pretty keen when we were done. If we get a scanner anytime soon, perhaps we’ll scan it and put it up for you to see…


Variant

Art Quest: Instead of playing in a library, take your friends to an art museum. Split up and regroup after about an hour or so, then go around together and take turns sharing the pieces that you liked the most.

Commentary

It’s worth noting that playing Fact Party has caused me to learn that:

  • The Canadian army suffered approximately 85% fatalities in World War II.
  • Most diseases that we get from shellfish are indirectly caused by all of the junk that we dump in the oceans. They filter out all the bad stuff and accumulate it in their tissues. We eat it and get sick.

I think that this would be a superb game for a parent to play with their children, or for an elementary school teacher to play with her class during a library session. This game really highlights the nature of libraries as places that can be explored—a place where you can delve for information, just for curiousity’s sake!


Variant

Blocks & Power Pellets: To play with Blocks and Power Pellets in the game, change the Alligator Actions step as follows.

Pills, Blocks, and Alligator Actions

Roll a die. If it is less than or equal to the number of hamsters in the Alligator Pit, add an alligator chip to the Alligator Pit. If the die is a 6, place a Block in a randomly selected square at the top of the Conveyor Belt. If the die is a 5, place a Pellet in a randomly selected square at the top of the Conveyor Belt.

When being pushed around, all Blocks are treated as having a Mettle of 3.

When your hamster occupies the same space as a Pellet, you must immediately declare whether you are eating the Pellet or leaving it there. If you eat the Pellet, then roll on the following chart and apply the effects immediately.

Die Roll Result
1 Bad Medicine: Lose three Pluck chips of your choice.
2 Dud: Nothing happens.
3 Pep!: Do not roll for Fatigue during the Check for Fatigue step this turn.
4 Epinephrine1: Gain one Pluck Chip. Put it in your Scamper.
5 Caffeine2: Gain two Pluck chips. Put one in Scamper and one in Friskiness.
6 Vitality: Gain three Pluck chips. Allocate them as you see fit.

Pluck chips gained in this fashion can be allocated to Traits other than the ones they start in, in following rounds of play.

1 Invisible City Productions does not endorse the use of performance-enhancing drugs in rodent experiments. Just say no. Knowing is half the battle. Stay in school.

2 Caffeine, on the other hand, is essential for many important tasks, such as programming.

Commentary

There are even more Variants that I want to produce for this game, but I just ran out of time on this retrospective/update. The next expansion will deal with having the players fill dual roles—as hamster and as one of the scientists running the experiment. This expansion will have cards that the scientists can play to adjust the running of the experiment, rules for creating hamsters with special powers and abilities, and different rules for figuring out who wins the game.

Little-known-fact: Run Hamster Run is Jeremy’s favorite game so far, and it’s also the most popular, with 116 copies of the pieces downloaded at the time of this writing. RYB is a close second with 105 copies of the deck downloaded to date. For the record, today is 11/30/00. I think that Jeremy’s fondness for the game really shows through in the art, layout, editing, and other work he did for it. When it was released, I was less-than-thrilled with it, preferring RYB and other games over Run Hamster Run. Looking back now, I can say that I like it a lot more than I did before, and I think that it’s probably our best game on the site to date. I feel that RYB will probably rival it if we just get the rules re-edited, re-marked, and converted into .pdf format (What a task!).

Shortly after releasing Run, Hamster, Run!, I received a letter from a man who played it with his family—wife, son, and daughter. Apparently the exclamation, “Run, Hamster, Run!” has become something they say now when someone or something is in a non-critical state of danger. It’s a real trip to discover that our games are reaching out and touching people like that.

I just re-read my original notes and noticed that I never mentioned the inspiration for the title of the game. There is a really nifty German film called Run Lola Run. It’s basically about a young woman who has to run around a lot. It sounds goofy, but it’s actually really enjoyable. It explores lovers, family, self, and society. It’s thoughtful, kinetic, existential, dramatic, and much more. See it.

11/23/2004 (from Sharon): This game bounces to a whole new level of silly when you make the pieces out of ShrinkyDinks. Remember that ‘Dinks shrink to 1/3 size, so you’ll probably need to adjust the size of the hamster art, but that’s okay with us.


Check it out! Back in June-ish, 2000, David Airapetyan made a Java version of the original game. Keen!

As promised long ago, here are additional powers for other characters from the Sluggiverse:

  • Torg: “Thank God for dandruff shampoo!”—Torg
    Place a coin on a piece in your last row. This piece can not be jumped until all of your other pieces have been captured.
  • Riff: “Let me check my notes.”—Riff
    At the start of his turn, Riff may emulate the power of any other character by rolling a 4, 5, or 6. On a 6, however, this backfires, causing Riff to lose at the end of that turn any pieces he moved during that turn. Riff may not duplicate abilities that can only be used a limited number of times, like Pete’s power or Gwynn’s power.
  • Zoe: “Count me in!”—Zoe
    Zoe does not have to obey the “see a jump, have to jump” rule.
  • Gwynn: “The more she used my powers, the stronger I became.”—K’Z’K’
    Gwynn starts the game with one coin. If any of her pieces are adjacent to an opponent’s piece at the start of her turn, then she must roll a die for every adjacent opposed piece. If the result of the die is equal to or greater than the number of coins she has, then she gains a coin and the adjacent opposed piece is captured. Gwynn may chose to capture a piece in this fashion (without rolling the die) instead of jumping to capture, gaining a coin each time this is done. If Gwynn has 6 coins or more, then she loses the game.
  • Sam (pre-vamp): “I’m still here… Just putting on my coat… Walking out the door…”—Sam
    Whenever one of Sam’s pieces is jumped, put a coin on it instead of removing it. At the beginning of Sam’s turn, add a coin to any of his pieces that has a coin. Remove any of Sam’s pieces with two or more coins on them at the end of his opponent’s turn.
  • Sam-pire: “So then I kicked Lysinda’s butt! It was great! Sam’s da man! Sam’s da man!”—Interview with the Sampire
    Whenever one of Sampire’s pieces is jumped, put a coin on it. Remove any of Sampire’s pieces when it has two or more coins on it.
  • Oasis: “And what’s the last thing you’d expect from someone who loves you so much?”—Dr. Steve
    When one of her un-kinged pieces is about to be captured, Oasis rolls a die. On a 5 or 6, that piece “blocks” the attempt and may not be captured this turn. The opponent must pick another move, even if it would disobey the “see a jump, have to jump” rule, but choosing other available jumps first. When one of her un-kinged pieces is about to jump another piece, Oasis rolls a die. On a 1, Oasis’s piece is “in love” with the opponent’s piece and refuses to jump it. Oasis must make a different move, even if it disobeys the “see a jump, have to jump” rule, but choosing other available jumps first.
  • Dr. Crabtree: “And how you eat people’s brains to absorb their knowledge…”—Dr. Irving Schlock, to Dr. Crabtree
    Dr. Crabtree may spend a piece that she has captured at the start of her turn to gain that opponent’s special abilities for the duration of that turn. Dr. Crabtree may not duplicate abilities that can only be used a limited number of times, like Pete’s power or Gwynn’s power.
  • Dr. Schlock (young and old): “Kiki! Look! It’s a young Dr. Schlock!”—Bun-Bun
    Dr. Schlock’s checkers may share the same square with each other. Dr. Schlock may not have more than two of his checkers in the same square; a kinged checker counts as one checker.
  • Lord Horribus: “Then we can snatch Torg’s soul in transit and have him to torture forever!”—Lord Horribus
    Before the game begins, Lord Horribus’s opponent must secretly mark the bottom of one of his or her checkers. If this checker is captured, then Lord Horribus wins the game.
  • Pete: “And that’s it. I’m going back to bed.”—Pete
    At the end of his opponent’s turn, Pete may force the other player to undo the move he or she just made and make a move according to Pete’s instructions. Pete may not force his opponent to make an illegal move, but he can make the opponent use his or her special power. Pete may use this power only once per game.
  • Shirt-Guy Tom: All the work and none of the glory.
    When one of his pieces is kinged, Shirt-Guy Tom may choose to remove that king from the board and place two normal checkers in two of his empty home squares instead.

Commentary

I can hear it now, “What about Aylee? Why didn’t you include her?” Well, I actually have rules for Aylee, but I’m not sure if they’re good enough yet. You’ll notice that when you match up certain characters against others, the games come out a lot like what they would in the comic strip. Lord Horribus has a lot of trouble beating Torg, Oasis and Gwynn have a knock-down, drag-out battle royale, Sam is nearly useless while the Sampire is actually pretty darn good, and Bun-Bun kicks ‘most everyone’s ass from here to Poughkempsie. I need to make Aylee capable of stomping pretty much all the other pieces without being impossible to beat, and it’s a tricky thing to do. This is compounded by the fact that she gets different powers as the game progresses and none of these powers are ones that the other characters have; I’m using up four different powers on just one character here. It’s a playtester’s nightmare. [17 million links in the rules are no picnic for the editor, either. —Ed.]


Variant

Stormfront:

Premise: Instead of ending the game when you reach the goal, you get to wreak havoc on the other players. It’s like Towers of Wyoming, with little battles when Deconstruction happens.

Deconstruction – modified rules: Cards played to Deconstruct are called Storm-Raiders.

  • Defender rolls one die for every card in their Tower, up to two dice. Attacker rolls rolls one die for every Storm-Raider played, up to three dice. Pair off highest against highest and next-highest against next-highest. The owner of the lowest die in a pair discards one card from the Tower or Storm-Raiders, as appropriate. Ties go to the defender.
  • After losses are taken, the attacker may choose to retreat. If you do so, you must discard one card from your Storm-Raiders and take the rest back to your hand.
  • If the attacker does not retreat, then repeat until all Storm-Raiders or cards in the Tower are gone. If any Storm-Raiders are left, then they must move into the empty Foundation, creating a new Tower.

Goal: Players no longer win when they reach normal victory conditions. Instead, they become the Storm-Master, but the game continues.

  • You lose the title of Storm-Master if your Tower falls below the normal victory conditions. If more than one player has a Tower that would qualify for the title of Storm-Master, the title goes to the player with the highest tower.
  • While a Storm-Master is in the game, any player without a Tower is removed from the game. If the title of Storm-Master becomes unclaimed again, then ousted players may re-enter the game as if they were just starting play.
  • On your turn as Storm-Master, you may play to Deconstruct like the normal rules for Towers of Wyoming (with no need to roll for combat), or you may play Storm-Raiders on any number of players at one time (in accordance with the normal rules for Storm-Raiders in Stormfront).
  • The game ends when only the Storm-Master is left in play.


Variants

Playing with a special Dice Box Grid: When setting up your game of Dice Box, create a 5×5 grid as normal, but write a “4” in each corner, write a “2” in each square adjacent to a square with a “4” in it, and write a “1” in every square adjacent to a “2”. You should end up with a grid like this:

4 2 1 2 4
2 1   1 2
1   *   1
2 1   1 2
4 2 1 2 4

When tallying up points for players at the end of the game, add the numbers in any squares occupied by their dice to their total as well.

Alternatively, you could use a grid set up in colors like this:

R Y B W Y
B W Y R B
Y R * B W
R B W Y R
W Y R W B

When tallying up points for players at the end of the game, add two points to their total for each square of their color occupied by a die of the same color.

Or… You could combine the two grids and get a result like this:

4 2 1 2 4
2 1   1 2
1   *   1
2 1   1 2
4 2 1 2 4

When tallying points for players at the end of the game, sum all of their dice, add the numbers in any squares occupied by their dice to their total, and add two points to their total for each square of their color occupied by a die of the same color.

Playing with Dice Box cards: To set up the game, you’ll need a Pinochle deck as well as the normal items. At the beginning of the game, after dice have been distributed, shuffle the deck. Each player gets five cards from the deck, minus one for each player in the game.

Players Cards
2 3
3 2
4+ 1

At the beginning of your turn, before playing a die or re-rolling your dice, you have the option to play one card. If you play a card, resolve the effects, discard the card, and proceed with the next part of your turn.

Whenever you place a die of your color on the grid, draw another card.

The Cards:

  • Spinner (9s): Re-roll one of your un-placed dice.
  • Grand Spinner (10s): Re-reoll as many of your un-placed dice as you want. Other players may re-roll half of their un-placed dice (round up).
  • Pit (Jacks): Place a penny on an unoccupied square. No-one may play there until all other playable squares have been filled in.
  • Bait (Queens): Place a nickel in an unoccupied playable square on the grid. Every player must attempt to play in that square before playing in any other square on the grid.
  • Relocate (Kings): Move a die on the grid to another valid location.
  • Points! (Aces): When tallying your points at the end of the game, you may re-roll one of your dice, taking the die’s new value instead of the value it ended the game with.
  • If you choose to keep the Jokers in the deck, allow them to duplicate the effects of any other card.

Commentary

Adding the various grids to the game places a stronger emphasis on strategic placement of dice and also gives players specific goals to work towards. Adding cards to the game adds quite a bit of depth to play and gives the players more control over what happens in the game. Both of these additions help to soften the impact of the randomness of dice rolls and concretize the way the game is played.

In other words: As it was presented, Dice Box was pretty bland and overly abstract. Adding cards and a board makes the game feel more like a game and less like an exercise in creating order out of chaos. I like it much more with cards and a board. I’m also rather proud of the distribution of colors on the colored grids, since all colors are represented in all positions on the board in equal measure.

Maximum number of players: 
Play Duration (new players): 
Minimum Age: 
13