Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Spare Squares: A many-player social strategy trading game for BGG.con 2011

I created a new game for the next BGG.con. The game will be produced by Blue Panther LLC in a limited run of one. I struggled to figure out how pay for its production, since it was going to cost more to produce than BGG was willing to spend. I came up with the idea of asking BP to sponsor the run and put their logo on the game, to which they agreed. Win-win-win.

I'm having fun with this design genre: "many players" social-strategy-trading games. I'm pleased with this particular design, which has strong design integrity. Designing for this genre has a kind of  artistic integrity. Not many people are doing it. To make money, I would have to get hired by convention organizers or large companies or organizations who want a brainy activity for their employees during the yearly company kickoff meeting. However, the game could be adapted for a smaller group of players, say as few as three.

Here is the game:

Spare Squares

Created, designed, and illustrated by Yehuda Berlinger for BGG.con 2011. Published by Blue Panther LLC. © 2011, Yehuda Berlinger. To obtain a copy of this game with customized rules and components, contact Yehuda at shadjon@gmail.com.

The BGG.con print run is 5000 unique square cards.

Objective and Play

The object is to submit the best set of arranged cards in one of four different prize tracks (1-4).

You start with four cards and an envelope. Beg, trade, win, or steal cards from other players to obtain the cards necessary for a complete set. Submit your set to any BGG.con organizer before Saturday evening 8 pm. Results will be tabulated and winners announced at 10 pm.

Entry Rules

You must adhere to all of the following rules, or your entry will be disqualified:
  1. You may submit only one set of cards. Entries must be received by 8pm on Saturday night.
  2. The number in the center of all submitted cards must be the same, as pictured. This number determines the prize track.
  3. You must submit exactly four cards. You must arrange the cards in a 2x2 grid, as pictured. Mark all cards with their location in the grid as follows: TL=top left, TR=top right, BL=bottom left, BR=bottom right.
  4. You may rotate cards as required; mark all cards with an up arrow (↑) to indicate the top of the card.
  5. Adjacent images on each of the four interior edges (a) must be the same shape. Filling and color do not have to match.
  6. Submit the cards in an envelope with your name on it.


  1. On each exterior edge (b), you score as follows:
    • 2 points for matching shapes
    • 3 points for matching interior
    • 4 points for matching color
  2. Points are cumulative. For example, the set pictured scores 19 points.
  3. Bonus points:
      If all adjacent images on the four interior edges (a) match in shape AND filling, add 10 points to your score.
    • If all adjacent images on the four interior edges (a) match in shape, filling, AND color, add 20 points to your score. (Note: This is not cumulative with the previous bonus.)

Winner and Prizes

There will be one winner in each of the four prize tracks; the winner in each track is the person with the highest scoring set in that track. Ties will be determined randomly. The prizes are as follows: [TBD, but each is generally a donated game of around $100 in retail value]


Your thoughts? I will be playing around with the bonus scores to find the exact right values, but as long as it's in the ballpark it should be ok. I was considering a doubling bonus for matching the interior edges exactly, but doubling got me in trouble in the first game for being too strong.

Does it look fun?

The players write on the pieces to play; this is required for a large convention like setting, but would not be required for a game played by 3 to 10 people around a table. For only three or four people I would start them off with more cards.

Part of the integrity of the design is that the tiles and the rule-set are separate. The game can be made easier or harder on demand (by requiring no or all edge matches, or by requiring or ignoring matching fillings), or varying the point values (for instance, matching specific colors can yield different points).

My inspiration comes from my previous BGG.con games, which were in turn inspired by Sid Sackson's Haggle. When I first saw the larger games that were to be played at BGG.con, they were all lotteries or tournaments. I thought that a convention of strategy gamers should have a single game to play with upwards of 100 people at a time that was not a lottery, trivia, or quiz games or a tournament of smaller games.

I also drew inspiration from Eternity II, a game/puzzle I haven't actually played and whose name I actually forgot. Still, I remembered the idea of matching pieces and that there was some math behind it.


Scott Nicholson said...

A few brief thoughts:

- Make this a time-limited and space-limited event. This wii avoid annoyance of those not playing the game, and reduce the time that people have to create a forum to administer trading. If it runs for several days, people will create a online space to organize trades, which goes against the spirit of the game (in my opinion).

- Consider making the scoring system more opaque. By laying it all out, you've lost one place where players would have to work together. (One method of giving some information is allowing each player three submissions, either physical or digital, to learn what their cards are worth.)

- Consider only giving each player one card, and not allowing players to trade cards by having player's names on the card. Then, the submission is done by a team of the four players, but you would need four of each prize. This would prevent the gaming of the system, where people beg everyone for their cards if they aren't playing, then end up with many cards to work with. If the cards are part of the badge, then people can wear them and it reduces the annoyance factor for non-players.

To your question of "Does it sound fun?"... not to me in a con-wide format. There are many other things I'd rather spend my efforts on at BGG.con than dealing with person after person to see, trade, or give me their cards; I would probably just give someone my cards so I could tell people I didn't have cards any more.

If it were time-limited, however, then it is less intrusive to my con experience and would be more attractive.

Yehuda said...

Thanks for commenting, Scott. You appear to be exactly the wrong target audience for this game. :-)

- The game is specifically designed to NOT be time limited, so that people can carry the cards around with them and give the game attention in their spare time. The game is not intended to hold everyone's attention at any one time. Between games on Thursday afternoon I may ask you if you have some cards I need. Friday evening someone might sit off in a corner fiddling with the cards. In this way, con bandwidth is used only during off-peak moments. Around Sat afternoon, some people will get serious trying to find the perfect matches.

P.S. I would be pleased as punch if people came up with online or other forums to assist with trading, though I don't think it will do them much good.

- An opaque scoring system will drive away the 75% of the casual players who will open their envelopes and not know what to do with the cards; these people will just give up and give their cards away to anyone who asks. The easier and clearer the goal, the more likely I will get participation. I want it to be not too difficult to submit a basic set with a known score.

The first BGG.con game had some opaque scoring systems and it worked ok. But only the dedicated players took advantage of it.

- At the last BGG.con I gave each player only one card instead of multiple cards and the game was a disaster. People weren't sure what they had or what they could do with it, and so were reluctant to let anyone else have the card. This stifled nearly all trading.

All your ideas will work for a group of people gathered at a designated time to play a game, and only the one game, at a specific time. This game is designed to be the opposite of that.

Thanks again,

Nadine said...

It sounds fun, pretty easy to understand the basics, and the matching middle number is a good starting point. Suggestions - let people know about it ahead of time on bgg.com, and have an informally designated area at the con for meeting and trading.

Judson said...

I would continue to worry about the tiny group who plays - last Con there were, I think, about 3 people who played seriously, and put together a spreadsheet and eventually amassed every card in play. A lot of people merely gave their cards away - with a certain amount of contempt, I'll note.

One purely handling suggestion I'll make: put your cards together in a square, and circle the intersection. One quick penstroke provides all the data the organizers need, as opposed to 8 glyphs.

What if the matching rules were more like your yearly email games? I'm not sure how to make that manageable, but if the points were scored in terms of how many other entries had that pair - in other words, 6 entries with matching empty blue circles on the outside would each get 6 points. That becomes less of a drive to sequester yourself.

Yehuda said...


Yes, the last game was the problem, for all the reasons I wrote in my response to Scott. This game builds on the strengths of the first game and avoids many of the problems of the last.

Yes, I am very concerned about the discrepancy between the few serious players and the great majority who will be turned off if they feel they have no hope of winning. That is why the bonus point amounts are the most crucial part here. A higher bonus rewards the very few. A smaller bonus discourages it. I have been discussing the game with some friends to find the right number here. I'm thinking 5/15 or 9/18 instead of 10/20.

On the other hand, I don't want this to simply be a lottery; this is a strategy game convention, and darn it we should be playing games with a little thought (or work) involved.

One of the reasons people gave their cards away is that they had no chance of entering, having only a single card or way too little information. Everyone should have a better chance of entering with this design. Actually, maybe I should eliminate all but the number matching requirement.

Re: glyph. That's pretty cool. If I can think of a way to express that in a few words only, and without having to draw another picture, maybe I'll do that.

Re: scoring points based on other player's entries. Again, a good idea. Let me think about it. Luckily I have more time to think about the rules than I do to think about the cards.


Poet said...

You have 2 shapes, 3 interiors and 4 colors.
A color-blind person can only distinguish two of those 100% of the time. Shapes and Interiors.

To solve this problem I would change it to 4 shapes, 3 interiors and 2 colors. I'm not an expert on the subject, but I think most color-blind people should be able to distinguish Blue from Red. Another possibility is Grey and Black. Tone is easier to distinguish.

As for added shapes, I'm sure you won't have a problem finding some.

Yehuda said...

Poet, actually, I thought about color blind, but I was rushed to come up with graphics that I could do myself.

I can't really change the cards at this point, only the rules. It's a little annoying to colorblind people, but they can write on the cards if it helps.

If I publish this again, I'll take time to account for this.


Mike K. said...

I think it is a great game! Will encourage people to meet and mingle (You are actually able to STEAL pieces from other players without worrying about the consequences?!).

What if you had one special combination of four cards that you keep in a sealed envelope. This would have to be a combo that only one player would or could statistically create. Have four of the top attending game designers sign each respective card in this special envelope. You could offer this as a prize along with a new iPad or something to attract game play.