Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Playing Boardgames with Refugees

Nuradin is an older man who fled here with his wife, who suffers from diabetes. He greets me with a hug and a kiss, always followed by “I miss you!” in heavily accented English. He was a philosophy professor in Syria, and is an excellent Chess player.  I tell everyone who comes to watch us play that he is my teacher, and he smiles as he studies the board, not allowing my compliments to distract him.

During graduate school, my roommate and I taught ourselves basic Chess strategy, although I have rarely played it since discovering “German games” and I am far from a grandmaster. It is fascinating for me, at this stage in my gaming life, to rediscover the beauty of this game.  And there is also something exciting about playing the game with an Arab man.  After all, Chess may never have become the world’s most studied board game had it not been for the Arabs, who, after conquering Persia, adopted the game and brought it to Europe.  In fact, they still refer to it by its Persian name, Shatranj.


Nuradin believes strongly in tolerance for all world views. Although he is Muslim, he has read the Bible and western philosophers such as Kant and Kierkegaard. But Chess is a war simulation. We advance our pieces, as each of us positions ourselves to take control of the middle territory. I think about the advances and retreats taking place this very moment in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Then there is no more room, and multiple pieces are captured.  The death toll rises and the table next to the game board fills up with casualties. The board remains clean, devoid of actual bloodshed.  Even so, I can’t help but project the images of my friend’s ruined city, Aleppo, onto the white and black squares. Can anyone win this game?  My friend shakes me out of my daydream with a warm smile, as he says to me encouragingly, “You are getting better.”

This is an excerpt for an article I recently wrote for the premier boardgame magazine, Counter.  you can download and read the full article and many others here:

http://boardgamegeekstore.com/collections/counter-magazine

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Postcard From Berlin: The Christmas Truce

Editor's Note: this article was originally published in 2007 on the now-defunct Boardgamenews.com website.

World War I was entering its first winter, as soldiers from both sides huddled together in the muddy trenches that lined the western front through Belgium and France. The “No Man’s Land” between them was already filled with bodies of the fallen, soon to be frozen because it was too dangerous to retrieve them for a proper burial. But that Christmas, something quite unexpected happened: the soldiers who had been trained to kill each other suddenly laid down their weapons…and played games.

I was unaware of this well-documented Christmas truce until a friend gave me a copy of the 2005 film, ”Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas).” The Oscar-nominated cinematic version of the story is depicted through the eyes of French, British and German soldiers, and is appropriately presented in three languages. Although it is a romanticized version of the actual events, its message made it a tradition in our household alongside some of the better-known holiday film classics. 


Sunday, July 27, 2014

It's Alive!

In the architecture office, my colleagues would often use a curious phrase when making design decisions: "This is what the building wants to be."

Why the anthropomorphism?  I suppose it's quicker than saying, "This seems to me to be the project's most natural direction, based on previous design decisions."  And it sounds more emphatic, not to mention a tad romantic.  After all, there is a mysteriousness to creative thought and the amount of influence our unconscious intuition has on that process.

There are so many different directions a design of any kind can take. It is a tree of possibilities, and each branch offers a number of new, unique choices. And like those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books I enjoyed as a child, if one of those branches leads to an undesirable conclusion, it's simple to back up and follow a different branch.

Game design is no different.  There are so many options for a designer, and each one influences future decisions. At a certain point, I have an intuitive feel for "what the game wants to be," even if it has changed from my original vision.

And that may be the best answer yet for why I view my inanimate projects as if I had designed them to evolve on their own: it's an acknowledgement that, more often than not, the process takes me down paths that I could not see at the outset.  I began with a goal and a vision on how to get there, but in the process of writing rules outlines and flowcharts, of prototyping, testing and tweaking, the journey revealed other interesting paths that I simply could not resist.

It's experiencing the unexpected that make me feel less like I'm in control and more like I'm playing a game--the game of game design.

But I am in control, of course--at least to the point of making the final decisions, of choosing the next branches of the decision tree to climb, and finally declaring when I reach the top, "This is what the game wants to be!"

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

POSTCARD FROM BERLIN: I Got Rhythm


My latest article in the Postcard From Berlin series on Opinionated Gamers website describes by fascination with the rhythms of life.  I've enjoyed learning to play various percussion instruments over the past several years, and it is also interesting to look at the rhythm of boardgames and how that plays into our enjoyment of them.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Game Design Kit


German boardgames are naturally a favorite gift I’ve enjoyed giving to friends and family back in the United States. In addition to that, I used to design an original boardgame for my two nieces as a Christmas present every year.  It’s not easy to shop for them when we live an ocean away from each other, and this was a way I could give them something personal. I also did try to theme many of the games around activities they enjoyed.

When my designs began to get published, I gave them those as gifts. Now that they are older—and very creative—I thought I would instead give them the materials to be game designers themselves.

A year and one-half ago I sent them a “game design kit” with materials ordered from Spielmaterial.  They included a blank game box, a deck of blank cards, a blank fold-out game board, a 6-color die, one large pawn, 6 normal dice in 6 colors, and large and small wooden discs and “meeples” (human-shaped figures) in 6 colors.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Two New Games, Freshly Squeezed and Uncovered

Two new games that I've been working on for many years in various versions are finally being offered to the public.

Citrus has been announced as an October Essen release from dlp-games.  It was a pleasure to develop the game further with designer/publisher Reiner Stockhausen, and I'm excited to finally have one of my games illustration by Klemens Franz, who I met for the first time in Essen.  In fact, I showed the prototype to him there, and I owe it to him for recommending it to Reiner.

Artifact, which made it to the final round of 6 in the 2009 Hippodice Competition, will also debut in October in Essen, this time from White Goblin Games. This game has also had a long development time and was my first collaboration with friend Bernd Eisenstein.

Unfortunately, I won't be attending Essen as I'm spending the year with my family in North Carolina. But I'll be there "in spirit" with the release of Citrus and Artifact! The stories behind the development will be posted on BoardgamegeekNews in the next weeks as well as here on this blog.