The Crossroads Challenge Week 1: Day 2

Challenge: Make a thousand-year game

The first thing that I started to think about was how many games actually last for a thousand years? That is a really long time. Think about what the world was like a thousand years ago. England/Europe is a mess. Rome fell awhile back. China is in the middle of the Song Dynasty. The Middle East is in the middle of a great golden age. Very different times all around.

Let's look a little more closely at what makes a thousand year game. Games in and of themselves have probably been around forever, but the recording of the rules and codifying of pieces is much more recent. Senet is about 5500 years old, although the rules we know for the game are basically good guesses. Hard evidence dice and backgammon show up about 5000 years ago. Go is about 2000 years old. A sort of proto-chess appeared about shows up about 1500 years ago.  Parchesi of all things is about 2500 years old. People in general don't have the means to produce cards until about 1100 years ago in China. There are a hand full of other games that have lasted that long, but most games were either too regional to survive until their rules could be recorded.

This Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image is from the user Chris 73 and is freely available at //commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Old_Backgammon_Vasa_Edit.jpg under the creative commons cc-by-sa 3.0license.

The basic building blocks for pretty much any kind of game are all there a thousand years ago and have lasted until the present day. Dice, tiles, boards, tokens, and even cards have all stood the test of time. The only real innovation in physical game design in the last thousand years is the trading based game, and that was probably done before too. What I'm getting at is that as far as materials and type of game, the thousand year game is not really that restrictive. But let's look at what isn't in these games that is in almost every modern game.

None of these games have strong thematic/flavor elements. In fact, all of them are tend toward the abstract. If there is any flavor, it is almost totally divorced from the rules. Except that knights are knights because, you know, real knights can only move in that funky L-shape too. Or something like that. This is key for having the game last. As cool as zombies or dragons or steampunk pirates are right now, they probably won't be that cool (or even recognizable) in fifty years, much less a thousand.

None of these games have complex rules. Even chess can be taught to someone in a matter or minutes. The most complex game might take at most a paragraph to explain the entirety of the rules, special exceptions and all. These simple rules combine in interesting ways though and give you lots of meaningful choices. This is key for having depth. Without this, your game might last, but it will never be very interesting to most people. Snakes and ladders (or shoots and ladders if you prefer) is about as old as Parcheesi but it has no depth or strategy. Children over the age of about three are board by it.

So, we are going for something abstract and with simple rules, but that has a lot of emergent complexity. Ok. That gives me more direction. By tomorrow I should have a better idea of what the game might actually play like.