The Making Game

I found myself in an interesting conversation on Twitter a while back, chatting with Aramis Troche (@thirdmusket) about ideas for gaming in libraries. He wrote up his ideas for me, which evolved into the “Let’s Talk” print column in Library Journal last month. At the end of that article, I promised there would be more said, and that’s why Aramis is here as a guest blogger today.

As we talked, Aramis mentioned a game called “1000 Blank White Cards.” Apparently if you’re a few years younger than me(!), you may have played this idiosyncratic party game in college or at social get-togethers with your friends. Somehow, the game had never hit my radar and I didn’t know a thing about it.

Aramis felt it would be something simple, low-cost, and possible to adapt into a library setting (with caveats). After looking into it, I decided he was right about its manifest possibilities — being both Fluxx-like and creatively inspiring at the same time — and I asked him to write it up.

I have to note that those “caveats” include a gigantic warning notice for libraries: because of the freeform nature of the game, anything goes when the game is played in a party atmosphere among adults who mostly know each other. There are sites online you can find examples of cards, and some can be inappropriate for all-age library gaming events. Engage your good sense and professional acumen when looking further into this game and when bringing it into a library setting, but don’t let that stop you from doing so. — Liz

Aramis is a Reference paraprofessional and library school student with five years experience creating library gaming programs, and a lifetime of experience as a hardcore gamer. His media cabinet is full of video games and his guest closet is stuffed with board games.

You understand gamers. They may play video games, bridge, chess or Scrabble, but there is no denying that some of your patrons love games. You have another set of patrons that is just as familiar to you: the painters, the knitters, the writers and inventors ‚ the makers. Maybe it’s time you brought these groups together.

One way to bring The Gamers and The Makers to the table together with 1000 Blank White Cards. Often shortened to just BWC, this is a card game the players create as they play. Supplies are easy to come by: a stack of unruled index cards, and pens to write and draw with.

Every card has three parts: a name, a set of instructions and a point value. The name uniquely identifies the card. The instructions tell the players what happens when the card is played. The points add or detract from the score of affected players.

Players draw the cards including instructions that range from the conventional directions you see in every card-based game (discard a card or skip your turn) to the bizarre (compose a haiku, name two famous people born on your birthday, do the hustle) and can encompass anything the players feel comfortable with. When explaining the game, it’s best to have some sample cards on hand. (Here are a few!)

If you have a good crowd coming to your event, break the players into groups of no more than six or so, to speed up the games. Give each player five to seven blank cards to create before the game begins, then shuffle those cards together with a roughly equal number of blank cards. A good-size playing deck will use 50-100 cards for a game.

Decide who starts — base it on age, hair length, the roll of a die, or who is wearing a color no one else is wearing. (It doesn’t matter: just pick someone!) Everyone should have something to take notes on about how rules might change during play, and to keep track of their score.

Play proceeds clockwise. On their turn, players draw a card from the shared deck and play it, or they can hold it and play a card from their hand. Cards can be played on the player who drew it, on another player, or on every player. If they draw a blank card from the deck, players should create a new card on the spot. When there are no cards left to draw from the deck, the game is over.

After the game have the players talk about their experiences and the individual cards. Were there cards some players enjoyed but others didn’t? Those are worth discussing. If some cards were universally loved, try to determine why. If some were universally reviled, discuss ideas for how they might be fixed. With this increased understanding, the next game will be a fruitful ground for revisions and new experiments. In turn, this will lead to another round of discussion after each subsequent game.

Cards remain available from week to week, and the deck grows month to month. Using a selection of the most enjoyable cards mixed into new games keeps improving the experience over time.

This is Liz writing again. I see considerable value in the post-game conversation, although it does not have to be a protracted discussion. Encouraging players to reflect on what it means to make a game, and to collaborate on elementary game design takes this game from just something to have fun with — a worthy goal in its own right, and perhaps all you require of it — to being a real learning experience. What makes things fun for others? What can reasonably be done in the setting? How do cards interact with each other, and how much should they do so? If the game includes a mix of ages — and there is no reason it should not — the conditions should make it possible for everyone’s contribution to be valued, constructively criticized, and for players to learn how to leave their egos at the door while simultaneously taking pride in what they created.

I’ll also suggest that you as the organizer-host of the game provide props and accessories in the room. Bring out the Storytime beanbags and the puppets, the box of crayons and blank sheets of paper, or set up a display of the best or the cheesiest novels you have on the shelf. Seed the room with ideas for the players. They’ll soon vault past your “seeds” with crazy ideas of their own, but some may like to have an “approved” jumpstart. Freeform creativity like this is given more lipservice than genuine encouragement for many people, and offering a little direction at first may help them get past such concerns.