Guest Post: Piecepacking by Vivian Wagner
Gaming, like storytelling, is never-ending. No matter how many games we create or tales we tell, we can always conjure up others. It was this sense of limitlessness that first drew me to The Infinite Board Game, edited and curated by W. Eric Martin. It’s a 56-piece game set based on a public-domain piecepack system, created by game designer James Kyle in 2000. Like a deck of cards, piecepack components can be used, theoretically, for an infinite number of games. Kyle originally created a dozen, and since then over 150 games have been designed.
The Infinite Board Game’s version of the piecepack system comes with high-quality plastic components – tiles, pawns, coins, and dice – as well as a book called The Infinite Board Game: An Illustrated Guide to 50 of the Best Piecepack Games. Twelve of the games in the book are solo-only, and a number of others have a solo variant. I started out playing Fuji-san, one of Kyle’s original piecepack solo games. Here’s how the book tells the story of the game: “Four Shinto priests have traveled from their various prefectures in pilgrimage to the top of Mount Fuji. You must find pathways for them to move up and down the mountain until they can reach the summit.”
It’s an engaging game that involves creating a mountain out of tiles, placing numbered coins, and moving the pawns to numbers that correspond with the number of spaces they have to cross. The goal is to get all of the priests to the top of the mountain. It takes a few minutes to play, and each time I’ve won. There’s also a more challenging “Country Road” variation, in which you move the priests back down the mountain. I’ve also played a few other games described in the book, including “Piece Gaps,” “Landlocked,” and “Piecepack Klondike.” Each of these is fun and relatively simple. I’m still working my way up to some of the longer, more challenging ones.
Many of the games have a minimalist theme or story accompanying them, along with illustrations. Mostly, though, they have relatively spare, bare-bones rules, leaving any theme or meaning up to the inventiveness of players. It’s a fascinating system, because though the games might seem elementary, in fact many of their mechanics are the same as those used in much more complicated and heavily-themed games. The transparent and skeletal nature of the piecepack system is a good way to understand and think through fundamental goals, strategies, and design principles.
I’m planning to play through all the soloable games in the book, and then I just might use the system to try my hand at designing a game or two of my own. There’s no limit, after all, to what you can do when you combine tiles, dice, coins, and pawns with a little imagination. And maybe I’ll even find myself starting to tell the story of what really happens when four priests wind their way through pine trees to the top of a snowy mountain.
Vivian Wagner lives in New Concord, Ohio, where she teaches English at Muskingum University. She’s the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), The Village (Kelsay Books), and Making (Origami Poems Project). Visit her website at www.vivianwagner.net.