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.

Piecepacking Photo 1 - Game  Box.JPG

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.”

Piecepacking Photo 3 - Fuji-san  Rules.JPG

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.

Piecepacking Photo 4  - Fuji-san In  Play.JPG

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.

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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.

Solo Dungeons and Dragons: That's a Thing?!

So I am sure those that are familiar with Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) are probably scratching your heads right now. Tabletop RPGs are, by nature, group activities. You get together with a handful of friends, choose a DM, and get adventuring. For most, this would be an exciting endeavor-- for me it's anything but exciting. As a social introvert meeting new people is incredibly difficult and takes some time for me to be comfortable around someone-- especially when it comes to D&D. Role playing is an activity that requires a considerable amount of acting and that is not something I can do even around close friends. What made me disappointed about my dilemma was that the adventures for D&D 5th edition looked so amazing, yet I had nobody to play with. That is where I came up with a plan: I'd game by myself. 

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There are two ways one could go about this. Mythic Game Master Emulator or my own way. Mythic is a great system where an adventurer sets the scenario for the session and then through a strong of yes or no questions and a bit of applied logic, the adventurer is taken through their adventure. Action is broken into scenes not unlike a regular RPG setup. I tried this system, but it seemed a bit fiddly for me and I didn't really like the amount of setup that went into a session. With Mythic out of the equation, I was left to come up with something of my own. Going into this, I knew that the role playing aspect would be lacking, but that was ok for me since I like the action of RPGs. I will definitely do some role playing, but it will be more like making up dialogue for the characters like I used to do as a kid playing with action figures. Also, I do my very best with not reading character descriptions too much and instead roll to discover more about NPCs. Another thing to realize is that the adventure would be a bit linear since role playing would be limited. Again, this is ok with me as role playing is not my favorite part of gaming. With that explained, let me now get into the tools I use for the adventures. 

Roll 20

Roll 20 is a website that allows gamers to come together to play tabletop RPGs over the internet. It provides a set of tools so a user can design their own adventure or upload an existing adventure onto the website. There are also packages a dungeon master can purchase which provide all maps, icons, and adventure information. Roll 20 has been great for me as it is free and very easy to use. I chose to upload all of my maps into my adventure. I was also able to upload custom icons for my player characters and enemies. There is a limit to file size when uploading, so if you have hi-res maps you will have to scale them down. What is also great is that there are built in character sheets that are programmed to compute the math for dice rolls. That's another thing-- you can roll dice right in the game window which helps keep everything together and creates a record of dice rolls. While I like this feature, I prefer rolling actual dice as it adds to the excitement of the game.

Notebooks and Pencils

I like to keep a written record of my adventures and to do that, I am very selective with what I use. For my paper I like to use the Kokuyo Campus Sarasara Dotted 6mm rule B5 paper. This allows me to draw a grid for a map when I need it, but still provides lines for me to write down information. I also have a small pocket notebook next to me to jot down quicker notes. I also use a small ruler to draw straight lines. Pencil-wise I use anything except for really soft graphite such as the BW Pearl or my prized Neon Casemates. A good old number two pencil usually does the trick. Mechanical pencils are also good for this task as the have a very small point and can help with drawing detailed maps and writing in margins. A mechanical pencil that I love is the Uni Kuru Toga Roulette as it rotates the lead every time you lift the pencil off the paper which helps with even wear.

Books

For the adventure I am running, I am using Dunegons and Dragons 5th Edition. All I have picked up so far is the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and the first adventure book Hoard of the Dragon Queen. If D&D isn't your thing or cost is prohibitive, a good system to use is Basic Fantasy which is a rules-light version of D&D that resembles tabletop RPGs of the 80s and 90s and is COMPLETELY FREE in PDF format. You can also purchase the rulebooks in print if that's your thing too. Basic Fantasy is a game system that I plan on reading up on and may revisit in the future. 

Other Stuff

I obviously use dice to play the game so I would recommend picking up a few sets. The best (and most economical) way is to buy a bag of dice off of Amazon for $20. You get several sets of quality dice and it is great for starters. If you want a bit better quality you can always get a set or two of Chessex dice in your favorite color scheme, but depending on which colors you choose they may run you around $10 a set. Oh and you will also need an imagination-- a lively one! 

Well that's it for how I am going to do this. What is next is me *actually doing it*. I have never done this before so I might completely hate it. I play board games solo all the time and enjoy that, so why not this? My only reservation is that it might be a bit fiddly when it comes to controlling multiple characters and such. I guess we'll find out soon enough!