Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 2.4: Rules #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

This week’s exercise: try to think of a game with no rules.


One key aspect of games is that they involve rules. These rules must be agreed to by all players.


If you are playing Go Fish and refuse to give away your ace of spades even though another player asked if you had any aces, you are no longer playing Go Fish.

In basketball, you increase your score by putting the ball through the hoop from above.

However, you can’t stand on a ladder, moving the ball through the hoop constantly and rack up the points quickly.

Game rules describe what game objects exist, such as a basketball or a deck of cards, and also limit behavior. A golf ball is easy to put into a hole if you use your hands, but to play the actual game of golf, you need to agree that you’ll try to get the ball in the hole by hitting it with a club, which requires a lot more skill.

So, can a game have no rules?

Some games allow for more activity than others. Some games specify exactly how the players may act, such as describing how a knight may be moved in chess, others allow for more by not restricting actions. Basketball doesn’t require that you throw the ball into the basket to score. It simply specifies that the ball “enters the basket from above and remains within or passes through the basket.” So dunking the ball is just as valid a method as throwing it in terms of scoring, and while dunking is specified in the rules, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

Games are varied, and some games are definitely more freeform than others. A game such as Fluxx actively modifies the rules as part of the rules of the game, but there are still rules.

Some games have hidden rules, such as the game of Mao, and part of the game is using inductive reasoning to learn how to play. By the way, playing with people who know two different variants but think they are playing the same version of the game is NOT FUN.

But a game with no rules? How would that work?

Even The Game (by the way, you just lost it) has rules.

Exercise Complete

A game without rules ceases to be a game. One can’t play such a game because participation is indistinguishable from living your life.

If you participated in this exercise on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, I’ll compare conflict in a few games.

(Photo: rules by Joel Kramer | CC-BY-2.0)

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 2.3: Objectives #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

This week, I’ll quickly describe the objective of five games.

Last week I wrote that we consider Go Fish and Quake 3 to be games despite their differences, specifically highlighting the fact that they are both designed for and played by players.

Continuing the comparison, both have objectives. The goal of Go Fish is to collect the most piles of cards, while the goal of Quake 3 is to fight your way through multiple tiers and defeat the AI-controlled bots.

As Fullerton states: “the objective is a key element without which the experience loses much of its structure, and our desire to work toward the objective is a measure of our involvement in the game.”

I like that description. I can think of times I was bored with a game I was playing, and at some point I didn’t care about finishing it. I can also think of my first time playing Minecraft, and hours passed without me realizing it as I built a large castle, complete with a minecart to take me up and down the mine for raw materials.


Ok, let’s look at some games and try to identify their objectives.

Game Objectives

Mage Knight

Vlaada Chvatil’s Mage Knight is a very complex board game.

Very complex. There are a lot of moving parts in this game, and a lot of rules related to moving, attacking, hiring units, taking damage, exploring new tiles, revealing enemies and artifacts, leveling up your hero, raising and dropping your reputation, and more.

But ultimately, whether you are trying to find the city in the first scenario or liberating mines in a competitive scenario, the objective is to gain the most Fame, which represents how well you are doing and can be seen as victory points.


I used to be obsessed with Monopoly. I was never a fan of all of the [insert licensed brand here]-opoly derivatives, partly because they aren’t just themes but actually changed the rules.

A number of game designers might argue that Monopoly is broken game, and I know of a number of players who complain that it takes too long to play, but a lot of people get surprised when you tell them that there is a difference between what the rules actually say and the version of the game they probably played.

For instance, you don’t put money in the center whenever you pay the bank, and you don’t get to collect anything for landing on Free Parking.

Also, housing shortages are a tactic. The game has 32 houses and 12 hotels. If you want to buy a house, but all 32 are already being used by other players, too bad. You don’t get to use a scrap piece of paper to act as a placeholder. You just don’t get to buy a house.

It’s why I never buy hotels, because the fewer houses available for everyone else, the better off I am. It’s also why getting expensive properties might not be the best strategy because someone with cheaper properties can buy houses much more quickly than you can, leaving you with fewer or no houses, ruining your higher rent advantage.

The objective of Monopoly is to bankrupt your opponents, and without arbitrarily adding house rules to pump extra resources into the economy of the game, the negative feedback cycle is a lot quicker.

Council of Verona

Michael Eskue’s card game Council of Verona has a Romeo and Juliet theme.

It’s a quick game, and it’s easy to learn. People I’ve introduced it to picked it up within a game or two, and they seemed to enjoy it enough to keep playing.

In the game, you have the Council and Exile, and you take turns playing your cards, each of which has a character such as Prince Escalus or Lady Montague. Some characters allow you to play an action, such as moving a card from the Council to Exile or vice versa, and other characters have Agendas.

The cards with Agendas are the key. You bid your Influence tokens in the designated areas on these cards, and if the Agenda is met, the Influence tokens are counted and scored. Agenda examples are Romeo’s”Romeo and Juliet are together” or Lord Montague’s “More Montagues than Capulets on the Council.”

The objective of Council of Verona is to score the most Influence points.

Castle Keep

Castle Keep by Gamewright is another enjoyable and quick game.

It’s a turn-based game in which players draw and place tiles made up of castle keeps, towers, and walls. There are three colors possible for each type of tile, and towers and walls also come in three different shapes. You can place tiles next to each other if they match either in shape or color.

Instead of building your castle on your turn, you can attack one of an opponent’s walls. Any adjacent tiles of the same color as that wall are also destroyed, so there’s a danger to consistent interior design.

Castle Keep offers two objectives: to be the first to build a 3×3 castle or to destroy an opponent’s castle.

Liar’s Dice

Liar’s Dice is a dice game that should be familiar to anyone who has seen Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

It’s a bluffing game. Each player starts with a set number of dice. All players roll their dice and peek at them in secret, and then each in turn makes a bid about how many dice are showing a specific number. For instance, you might bid that four dice show the number 3, and the next player might bid five dice showing the number 2.

After a bid is made, the next player can challenge the bidder, and everyone shows their dice. If the actual number of dice showing the number specified in the bid is equal to or greater than the bid, then the challenger loses one die from his or her collection.

If, however, the bid is not made, then the bidder loses one die from his or her collection.

The objective of Liar’s Dice is to be the last player in the game with any dice.

Exercise Complete

Clearly the objective has a huge impact on how a game is played and also how players are engaged. If you are low on dice in Liar’s Dice, you might be more conservative about bidding than if you had a full collection. If your opponent is closer to building a castle than you are in Castle Keep, you might be more interested in finding ways to knock down his or her walls than on trying to catch up.

If you take away the objectives of these games, there’s no point in playing anymore.

If you participated in exercise 2.3 on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, we’ll focus on the rules of a game.

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 2.2: Players #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

This week’s exercise: describe how players might join or start a game of Go Fish versus single-player Quake.

Quake 3 and Go Fish

Chapter 2 starts describing each of these games, which seem incredibly different, yet Fullerton points out that we all agree that these are both considered games and not two different types of entertainment.

So what do they have in common? What makes them both games?

An easy thing to point out is that each has players. Each game is designed for these players. A player is someone who voluntarily “accepts the rules and constraints of a game.”

Ok, but how does a player start a game of Go Fish?

It requires three to six players to agree to play at a specific time and place together. That place should also be available. You can’t play if you decided to meet at a park bench, only to arrive and discover that it is occupied by a family having a picnic.

Someone needs to bring a standard deck of playing cards, and someone has to be chosen as the dealer to deal out cards and determine who starts the game.

Depending on schedule conflicts, space availability, and how much any participant is willing to let someone be a dealer, it can be more or less difficult to arrange a game. Trying to play with two young children who are insistent that each should go first could derail the entire experience.

And Quake? Well, I’ll be honest. I’ve never played the original Quake. I’ve played Quake 3, however, and while it is best played in a multiplayer environment, it is possible to play it by yourself against the computer-controlled opponents.

To start a game of Quake 3, you need a computer with the hardware capable of playing the game. That computer obviously shouldn’t be in use by someone else, and we could dive deeply into the technical aspects, but here’s a summary:

  • the computer should be on
  • the right drivers should be installed
  • the game should be installed
  • the game should be launched
  • (optional) you should configure your controls
  • (optional) you should configure your avatar
  • choose your level
  • wait for the game to load the level

There are other requirements, such as needing your electric bill paid so you can power the computer in the first place. Or perhaps you are playing in an Internet cafe or at your college campus computer lab, which each require some level of payment at some point for you to gain access.

But in both cases, you needed to decide on a time to play the game. Playing the game requires a dedication of time beyond the start time. Whether you play for 30 minutes or three hours, it takes time that you aren’t spending on some other task.

Both games require your presence to play. Even if you are waiting your turn in Go Fish, you are an active participant, especially when someone asks you about your cards. In Quake 3, the game happens in real-time and requires your attention at all times.

Both required more than just the players. A deck of cards is much less expensive than an entire computer and the cost of a copy of Quake 3, but the point is that in each case you need materials to play.

Exercise Complete

This exercise was relatively short, but it still drives the point home: there is something about games, and specifically the nature of the need for games to have players participating, that makes them games.

If you participated in exercise 2.2 on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, we’ll look at objectives in games.

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 2.1: Think of a Game #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

You can see the #GDWW introduction for a list of previous exercises.

This week’s exercise: describe a game as if your audience is someone who hasn’t played anything like it before, then do the same with a completely different game. Compare the descriptions.

Chapter 2 is all about the structure of games, and this exercise is meant to get you thinking about what makes a game a game.

Rune Factory and Iota

Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon

I’m playing Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon these days for the Nintendo DS, and since it is so fresh in my mind, I’ll describe it first. It’s a complex game, so brace yourself.

You play the role of a young man who can’t remember who he is or where he comes from, and after stumbling across a woman’s house, she puts you to work tending the farm in return for letting you stay on the land. After fighting a monster off, there’s a hint that perhaps you were a soldier, but for now, you’ll plow the land, plant and water seeds, and clear out weeds and rocks to make room for it all.


Time matters. Each day begins at 6AM, and every 10 real life seconds you are playing, 10 minutes passes in the game. You can’t stay up 24 hours or you’ll collapse, so at some point you need to go to bed. There is a calendar system that is a bit unique: each week is five workdays and one holiday long, each season is five weeks long. The seasons dictate what crops can be grown on the farm. For instance, strawberries are a spring crop, and so they can only be grown during the spring season.

Time only passes when outside or in a cave. If you are inside a building, such as your house or a shop, time stands still, which means you can explore the indoors to your heart’s content. It makes exploring the library very unrealistic. B-)

Your Home
On your farm, you have a house, which is where you sleep and save your game. I’ll describe more about the house later.

Near your house is the shipping bin, which is where you can place harvested crops, fish, or any number of items in order to sell them. On non-holidays, you can expect Rosetta, one of the people from town, to pick up everything, and you’ll get paid the next day.

Near the shipping bin is your well, which allows you to refill your watering can. You can also fill your watering can at the nearby stream, which also allows you to fish if you have a fishing pole.

At the southwestern part of your land, there is a woodshed, which is where you store any chopped wood. You can collect wood to build fences on your fields, or you can save it to expand your house or build monster huts. The monster huts will be built to the east of your house in an area north of your field.

Your field is a large area of land that you’ll use to grow crops. Weeds and branches will appear in untilled areas, and there are large tree stumps and boulders. Some large rocks can be moved, but you’ll need upgraded tools to get rid of the rest to clear the way to maximize the size of your farm.

Farming and Fishing

The land is separated into tiles. You’ll use a hoe to till a tile in your field. It’s suggested you till a 3×3 area, then stand in the middle to plant seeds in all 9 tiles at once. Then, using your watering can, you can water each tile.

Each day you need to water your fields where you planted the seeds until they are mature crops you can harvest. If it is raining, you don’t need to water them. If your plants don’t get water, they stop growing.

It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to mature depending on the type of seed. After they are fully grown, the crops can be picked and placed in your pack, or you can carry them over to the shipping bin.

Seeds can only be planted on your farm during certain seasons. They won’t grow if planted in the wrong season, and you won’t be able to harvest your crops if you enter a new season in the middle of growing the previous season’s plants.

There are caves in the world around your farm, and each one has a different permanent climate. That is, even if it is winter, you can grow summer crops in a cave with a summer climate. The trick, of course, is that you need to water those crops, which takes time.

When you have a fishing pole, you can fish anywhere there is a body of water. The stream near your house is one example, but there is the end of the dock on the beach, or even the water near the ruins.

There is a variety of fish you can catch. Some are more valuable than others, and they come in different sizes which also impacts the amount you can sell them for. Don’t be surprised to find the odd boot mixed in with your prize-winning sardines.

To the north of the farm is the village of Kardia You can find most of the people there. Everyone has their own simulated life. Some people show up in town only on holidays. Stores are open only during certain hours, and people will arrive or leave areas depending on where they work or who they might be talking to.

The village has three streets featuring the shops and homes of the residents. The southern street has:

  • Library
  • Clinic
  • Parts Shop
  • Pub Spring Rabbit
  • Inn
  • Blacksmith

The middle street has:

  • Hot Springs
  • Neumann’s Farm
  • Camus’ Farm
  • Kardia Chapel

The northern street has:

  • Mayor Godwin’s Manor
  • Jasper’s Manor

To the east of the village is the beach, which features the Spearfish Shack, a dock to fish off of, and a giant shell which can be used to transfer screenshots and items to another player’s game using the Nintendo DS WiFi capability.

Each of the buildings has their own hours, which means if you try to go shopping too early or too late, you’ll be out of luck.

To the north of the village is the Town Square, which is where festivals are held.

In a house to the south of your farm is where the young woman who found you lives.


There are 28 people who you can talk to, trade with, and give items to. 10 of them are potential love interests and brides for your character.

There is a Friendliness menu in the game which allows you to see the status of your relationships. You can see how your neighbors like you, as well as how your wooing of potential brides is going.

You can increase the friendliness levels by talking to people and giving them gifts. People have preferences, so giving them gifts they don’t care about has a similar effect as in real life.

Once your love interest cares enough, and if you’ve upgraded your house and bought the right furniture, you’re ready to settle down. In order to propose to her, you have to meet some criteria. Each woman has a different set of criteria you must meet, such as how many monsters you have on your farm or giving a specific gift.

When married, your wife will provide you food each morning to start your day, which you can treat as a snack to replenish your health and stamina after a hard day’s work, or you can sell it.

If you are married long enough, you’ll have a child. As far as I know, the child has no in-game purpose other than to mark the amount of time you’ve spent married.

Health and Stamina
You have two resources: health and rune points. Rune points, or RP, act as your stamina.

Every action you take uses up RP, and when you run out, your health starts to deteriorate.

If you run out of HP in your field, you’ll collapse and wake up in bed the next day, losing a good part of your morning.

If, however, you run out of HP in a cave, the game is over.

You can restore RP and HP by sleeping for the night, by relaxing in a hot spring bath in town, or eating food. RP can be replenished by picking up runes that appear after a crop is harvested, and HP can be restored with potions or medicine.

Tools and Items

Early on, you’ll receive a hoe, a watering can, and some seeds from Mist, the young woman who allowed you to stay on her farm. By talking to people and meeting certain criteria, you can gain access to other tools, such as the ax, fishing rod, and the sickle. Each tool allows you to perform a specific task. An ax lets you cut down the branches you find on your field, which converts to wood in your woodshed, while the Friendship Glove allows you to befriend monsters you find in caves.

There is a wide range of items in the game. Some aren’t very useful, such as the stones and weeds you find in your field. Crops, herbs, fish, and eggs are examples of basic items, and if you have the right machinery or tools, you can turn them into more advanced items. For example, if you have a cookbook and a kitchen, you can turn a fish into sushi, which is more valuable and can be sold or eaten for greater benefit.

You can give items to people, although most of the time you’ll sell items for profit. You can sell items by putting them in your shipping bin on your farm or by talking to shop owners in the village.


You won’t be allowed to enter the caves until you’ve gotten a pass from the mayor, who requires you to have tilled a number of tiles on your field first.

The caves have monsters and monster generators. You’ll be able to fight them with your tools such as the hoe or ax, but you’ll probably want weapons such as swords and spears. You can also defend yourself with shields.

Fighting happens in real time. Monsters will attack you, and you can either attack back or use the Friendship Glove to try to pet them until they like you. Befriended monsters teleport to your farm if you have a hut for them to live in, and depending on the type of monster, they can work your fields, allow you to harvest items from them, or help you fight in the caves.

You’ll learn magic to teleport yourself to safety, to heal yourself, and to attack monsters. Your monsters may use magic to fight for you as well. Magic costs rune points, even if your monsters are the ones casting the spells.

Caves also have fields, and since their climate is so stable, you can plant crops you normally couldn’t at any time of the year.

You can also use a hammer against certain rocks to collect ore, which allows you to upgrade your tools and weapons.


There are a lot more details to explain, but I think this post is getting long enough. Let’s move on, and to a smaller and quicker to describe game, please.


Iota by Gamewright, “the great big game in the teeny-weeny tin,” is a card game for 2 to 4 players. The objective of the game is to score the most points by adding cards in lines connected to a grid.

A line is defined as 2, 3, or 4 cards in a straight row or column. There are specific rules for how such cards can be placed in lines.

There are 66 square cards. 64 cards have three properties:

  • color
  • shape
  • number

Each of these cards are unique. Two cards are wild and can substitute for any other card.


Each player is dealt four cards which can be looked at but should be kept a secret from other players. The other cards are stacked face-down to create a draw pile.

One card from the draw pile is placed face up in the center to act as the start of the grid.


Each player takes turns and can either:

  • add cards in a single line, then record your score
  • pass

When passing, a player may discard any number of cards to the bottom of the draw pile.

At the end of your turn, you replenish your hand back to four cards.

Game Over

The game ends when the draw pile is empty and a player has played his or her last card, which gives double points for that turn.

The player with the highest score wins.

Adding Cards and Scoring

When adding cards to a line, there are certain rules to follow:

  • Cards must be added in a straight line. You can’t place cards anywhere you choose, and you can’t make right angles.
  • Added cards must connect to the grid.
  • In each line, all cards must either be the same or different in each property. You can’t have a 3-card line with two circles and a triangle because the shapes must be all different or all the same, for example, but you can have a 3-card line with three circles so long as the colors and/or numbers are different.
  • Creating a 4-card line forms a lot, which doubles your score for the turn.
  • Lines can only be four cards long.

After you place your cards, you add up the numbers on the face of all of the cards in the lines you either created or extended, counting cards twice if they are part of two lines.

Then double the points earned for each lot created.

If you used all four of your cards, double your points again.

Wild Cards

The wild cards can be used in place of any other card and are worth 0 points.

Before your turn, you can replace a played wild card with a card from your hand that matches. That is, if the wild card is part of a line of three green circles and is acting as a green circle with a value of 4, you would need a green circle with a value of 4 to replace it.

You can then play it on any turn.

Wild cards that are part of two lines must represent the same value on both lines.

Comparing Rune Factory and Iota

One is an involved story-based, single-player, farming simulation and role-playing game. The other is a family-friendly card game that can be played in about half an hour.

There are clearly a lot of differences, but what similarities are there?

While it wasn’t called out above, Rune Factory does have a setup. The player is initially told that his or her character is a young man with amnesia. He is given his first tools and an explanation of how to work the field. Combat ensues immediately to introduce the concept of monsters. Afterwards, the real game starts.

They both have rules. Iota says how cards can be placed, how scores can be tallied, and what can’t be done.

In Rune Factory, the rules are more complex and are enforced by the programming of the game. How time passes, and how various events occur based on the time, are just some of the interlocking rules.

They each have dynamics that occur as a result of playing. If you can’t place more than four cards in a line in Iota, and if you can’t place certain cards together in a line, then sometimes gaps will occur in the grid that cannot be filled. Sometimes a player will place a card on a line that prevents another player from placing his or hers.

In Rune Factory, seeds get planted in a 3×3 grid. If you till a 3×3 grid, all will get seeds, but if you till only part of it, either due to weeds or rocks being in the way or some other reason, then you are wasting some of the potential return on the cost of seeds. If radish seeds cost 200 gold, and you can sell each harvested radish for 60 gold, then you need to sell at least four radishes to make back your investment. If you can’t, you lose money, which prevents you from purchasing other supplies.

Each has a designed look and feel to it. Iota is colorful, and the cards are of a certain quality. The cards are all you need to play, which allows you to focus on them as the main elements. Rune Factory has a lot of music, sound effects, story, illustrated graphics and animations, and more to immerse the player in the game.

Iota has a very clear ending with a victor, but what about Rune Factory? Can you win it? While Rune Factory lets you play forever, the storyline can be completed.

Exercise Complete

I am sure I can compare them in many other ways, and chapter 2 does go into the structure of games for quite a bit, but we’ll consider this exercise finished. I already found enough accidental spoilers for Rune Factory during my research, and this post is way too long now.

If you participated in exercise 2.1 on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, we’ll compare how players start games of two seemingly different games.

Game Design Workshop Wednesday Exercise 1.5: Childhood Games #GDWW

Each week, I’ll go through an exercise from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Third Edition. Fullerton suggests treating the book less like a piece of text and more like a tool to guide you through the game design process, which is why the book is filled with so many exercises.

In the four previous exercises, I pretended to be a tester for the indie hit FTL and documented everything I experienced and did in the game, I critically analyzed a game that was “dead on arrival”, I listed and described areas of my life that could be games, and I kept a game journal.

This week, the exercise is to list 10 games you played as a child and briefly describe what made each game compelling.

Your childhood memories might provide inspiration for new game designs today. Children imagine and create games all the time.

Game lines

Freeze Tag

Tag is a very common game for children to play, but my favorite variation was freeze tag.

In regular tag, the player who is “It” tries to touch another player, transferring “It” to that player. Sometimes the “no tag-backs” rule was applied, giving the original “It” immunity until the next player is tagged. The game never ended, as there was always a new “It” and people to chase.

In freeze tag, however, the goal is for “It” to freeze all of the other players. A tagged player was frozen and had to stand in place until unfrozen by another player, usually just by touching the frozen player’s hand.

While regular tag is “every man for himself”, freeze tag encouraged everyone who wasn’t “It” to work together. The more unfrozen players running around, the less likely “It” will win. Of course, the more frozen players around, the easier it is for a player to unfreeze them. “It” had a lot of work to do, but I enjoyed the tactics that freezing and unfreezing players allowed for.

Pirate Ship

In a box of Cap’n Crunch, I once found a map.

A treasure map.

I brought it to school, and during recess, I recall holding the map out in front of me while a train of children followed behind, all of us teetering and rolling as if on a ship in search of wealth beyond our wildest dreams.

I don’t remember much to the game. We made it up as we went. We pointed out hazards on the horizon, and we searched for land. We pretended to dig on islands based on where X was on the map.

At one point we excitedly found gold. When we presented our amazing find to the teacher, she looked unamused and said flatly, “That’s not gold. That’s broken glass.”

Well, she was no fun.

Red Light Green Light

Apparently this game is called “Statues” in some places, but the idea is that one person stands across the room or field. When he or she turns around and yells “Green light!”, everyone else tries to move all the way to the other side. Every so often, the one person turns back and yells, “Red light!” and everyone must stop moving. Anyone caught moving during this time is out. Play continues until either someone makes it across or everyone is out.

I liked how it simultaneously encouraged caution and haste. If you sprinted, it’s harder to stop moving when “Red light!” is called out. If you inched forward, you’d likely never get to the other side before the other players.

And if you were “It” and calling out the light colors, it’s hard not to call red immediately after green when the nearest player is mere feet away from you. The game gets very intense, very quickly.


Kickball is like baseball, only you get a giant rubber ball. Pitching it was like bowling, and batting was like soccer.

You didn’t need to be able to throw a small baseball well or swing a bat with accuracy. It was easy for almost everyone to play.

Plus, we had the added rule that allowed you to throw the ball at someone to tag them out, so we also incorporated dodgeball into it. Of course, missing the player meant that the ball needed to be collected and thrown, allowing the runner to advance to another base more easily, so there were some exciting plays involving good dodges.


Speaking of dodgeball, I never understood why this game had such a bad rap in popular culture. I loved it.

We played a number of variations during gym class. One was similar to freeze tag in that players who were hit by the ball would have to sit down, and in order to reenter play, the player designated as “Doctor” would need to come out from the safe area known as the “Hospital” and bring the sitting player back.

However, no one can heal the doctor, who can be hit by the ball as any other player once out of the hospital area. Losing the doctor was a huge blow to the team, and it wasn’t unheard of for players to sacrifice themselves to protect such a critical resource.

Another variation had a different resource to protect: a tennis ball sitting on top of a cone. Normal dodgeball rules applied, but if your team’s tennis ball fell off the cone, your team automatically lost. Sometimes during an intense game it wouldn’t be noticed that a ball was rolled slowly towards your cone. You had to keep your eyes open.

What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?

This game was very similar to Red Light, Green Light. One person was the Fox at the front of the room, and the rest of the players were the Hens, or something like that. The hens would ask, “Mr. Fox, Mr. Fox, what time is it?” and the fox would respond with an hour, such as, “It’s 5 o’clock” or “It’s 3 o’clock.”

The hens would then take that many steps towards the fox. If it was 3 o’clock, you could take 3 steps forward.

The goal was…you know what? I don’t think we ever found out. Looking online, the goal was to cross past the fox’s location, but no self-respecting fox ever let that happen.

Because one of the responses was “It’s midnight!” and at that time, the fox could chase the hens back to their starting area. If someone is caught, then that person becomes the fox.

We had a variation we would play occasionally in which the fox converted hens to his/her side. That is, if a hen was caught, now you had two foxes to contend with at midnight, and the goal of the foxes was to convert all of the hens to foxes.

Initially the times called out allowed hens to walk nine, 10, or 11 steps, but once hens got closer to the fox, the game inched along with single steps, and everyone anticipated midnight to come at any moment.

Wall Ball

While I’m sure there were official rules to wall ball somewhere, I remember taking a small rubber ball and hitting it down into the ground towards a wall. When the ball bounced back from the wall, it was someone else’s turn to hit it. It had to bounce on the ground once before hitting the wall, and if you let it bounce before you hit it back or if your hit results in anything other than one bounce before it hits the wall, you were out. I recall getting punished by getting pelted with the ball, but I don’t remember how it was determined who did the pelting.

The rhythm of the game needed to remain unbroken: bounce, rebound, hit, repeat. You could hear it when someone messed up.

This game was a bit fuzzy in terms of who exactly was responsible for hitting the ball if you had more than two players. There were a number of times in which fingers were pointed and the debates about who was closest raged.

But the game was fast-paced, and every so often someone would make a hit that required players to scramble and dive to avoid going out.


My sister and cousins would play this made-up game of ours. In my parents’ basement in the evenings, there weren’t many windows, so if you turned off the lights, it could be very, very dark. So we basically played a game of hide-and-seek which started by turning off the lights.

Not only did people have to find a place to hide in the dark, but once the seeker finished counting, he or she had to navigate around all manner of things being stored in the basement, such as exercise equipment or laundry baskets, and try to find the other players.

What was amazing about this game was that it gave you a much larger useful play area in the same space. Why? You could hide in a place that would otherwise be incredibly obvious if the the lights were on and the seeker could see. Standing flat against the wall or even in the middle of the room were surprisingly effective.

My favorite hiding spot? Jumping up and grabbing onto the metal I-beam that crossed the ceiling, then pulling my legs up to it. So long as I didn’t breathe too loudly from the strain of hanging up there and the seeker didn’t raise his or her hands up when walking past, I couldn’t be found.

At least until the lights turned on and everyone saw me. Then the I-beam was checked regularly.

Kings vs Queens

I don’t know if this game had a different name anywhere else in the world, but we played it in gym class in elementary school.

Everyone sat on the floor in rows, which created corridors for the players to walk down. One boy and one girl each would get a bean bag to place on their heads, and they would stand at opposite corners. The gym teacher would periodically call out, “King chases Queen!” or “Queen chases King!”, and then it was like tag in which It was whoever was doing the chasing.

The trick was that if the bean bag fell off your head, you lost, and you couldn’t use your hands to keep it on. As a result, it wasn’t an incredibly fast-paced game, and as bean bags started to slip, kings and queens started walking with their heads tilted at bizarre angles.

Sometimes the gym teacher would switch who was doing the chasing right before someone was about to be caught. I noticed it seemed to happen more often whenever a girl was about to lose, or maybe I’m remembering it wrong. When a king was closing the gap, and then suddenly had to reverse course to run away from the queen, you can feel the energy in the room as everyone started cheering or jeering.

My favorite variation got the rest of the class involved. Everyone would sit in a grid with their arms out to their sides. Not only would the kings and queens change roles as chaser and chasee, but the grid would periodically switch corridors so that instead of only being able to walk through rows, you had to walk through columns instead. If queen was chasing king, and the king was safely in the next row, and the signal was given to switch from rows to columns, the king might find he is suddenly much closer to danger.

Between worrying about role changes, chasing and evading, and balancing bean bags, it was probably the most intricate game we played as children.

Heads Up Seven Up

In this game, seven players would be at the front of the classroom. Everyone else would put their heads down on their desks with a hand outstretched and a thumb sticking in the air. The seven standing players would each pick one sitting participant, pushing down the thumb to indicate that the choice has been made, and return to the front. Then “Heads up, seven up!” would be called out, and the people who had their thumbs pressed would stand. Each would then attempt to guess which of the players picked him or her. If you guessed wrong, you sat back down. If you guessed correctly, you replaced him or her at the front.

I think this was one of the first games that had us thinking about social dynamics. Was it the person you never talk to? Was it a girl or a boy? Did your best friend pick you? Did your best friend purposefully NOT pick you because you would expect that he did? Or, knowing you know that he knows that you know, he picked you?

Ostensibly, you had a one in seven chance of being right, but depending on who was up there, you had a sense that you being chosen wasn’t random, that there was some calculation involved, and so if you could reverse engineer the decision-making process, perhaps you easily identify the person who chose you and beat the odds.

Exercise Complete

Searching online, I learned that some of the games we played were unique variants, or at least not documented anywhere that I could easily find. I guess it shows how creative children can be, which is obvious to anyone who was ever given a child a giant box.

If you participated in exercise 1.5 on your own, please comment below to let me know, and if you wrote your own blog post or discuss it online, make sure to use the hashtag #GDWW.

Next week, I’m moving on to Chapter 2 and will attempt to describe two games in detail as if you haven’t heard of them before.

(Photo: Game Lines by Boris Anthony | CC-BY-2.0)

Follow GBGames on Google Plus and Facebook!

Association of Software Professionals

Twitter: GBGames