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.


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

Guest Post: Duly Noted

A while back I had reached out to fellow stationery enthusiast Paula Binsol to pick her brain about her note-taking method. I had always been impressed with the neatness of her notes and how organized they were. That is what this post is about-- the tools she uses and her method. Enjoy!

If there’s one thing I’m proud of, it’s the way I take notes. Most people think that scribbling things down in a notebook suffices as taking notes, but I consider that doodling with words. I have honed and perfected my system (for me) these past eight years of higher education and having reached the pinnacle of my note-taking prowess, I am excited and thrilled to be sharing this system with all of you!

But first things first: the tools. I believe high quality tools beget high quality work. Naturally, we have to put in the major work, but it helps to have tools that you can use and appreciate. That being said, I’m really particular, especially with regard to my writing instruments. Here are my holy grail items for note-taking:

1.   Notebook: B5, nice paper. So lately since having moved to Asia, I use the Kokuyo Campus Notebooks in B5 with a 6mm line because my handwriting is too small for anything wider

2.   Pens: This is where it gets tricky:

            -Writing pen: Uniball Inkjet Jetstream 0.7 fine point RT OR Sarasa Clip 0.3, both have to be in black.

            -Side notes: A large part of my note-taking process involves additional notes after the lecture and class have taken place, so these happen with either Uniball Signo DXs in 0.38mm in blue-black, blue, or green or purple or Sarasa Clip 0.3 in Blue or Blue-Black

3.  Highlighters: Super important for me to get my bearings when I’m writing, so I use these to highlight the title of each lecture, the subtopics and important terms that I may have missed or need to remember. I use a Sharpie Fine Highlighter in Banana Yellow, Mildliners and Pilot Frixion in pastels.

4.  Pencils: I mostly use these to emphasize things when I’m already on a third or fourth reading and cannot seem to find it in me to add any more side notes or color. In addition, I like these for writing in textbooks. Because I need to be quick and don’t have time to hand-sharpen, I’ve always got one of my Pentel P200 series on me. When I’m in the mood for a little leisurely note-taking, I grab a Blackwing Pearl, 602 or MMX or a trusty Apsara Absolute!

The system is where it really gets involved. My note-taking system starts before I go to class, with all of the preliminary reading. This way, most of the basic terminology has already entered my brain prior to lecture and I waste less time thinking about how things are spelled and can just keep writing. When lecture starts, I use my CamScanner app on my phone to take photos of the lecture slides which gives each slide a corresponding number. This number, when needed, is used in my notes as a way to reference back to the slide so that I know which additional information associated with that particular topic.

To start taking notes, I fold each sheet of my B5 Kokuyo Campus notebook paper in half. I started to do this when I realized that I wasted SO MUCH paper space because of my really small handwriting. The columnar style lets me get the most out of the paper, but also helps with the system of writing side notes. Using my black pen, I make sure to write the headers in all caps and then I use an indentation system to indicate to myself where the subtopics are. Each all-caps header designates a new topic in the lecture. Dashes indicated major points. Dots under each dashed sentence indicate facts or notes related to the dashed topic. Arrows indicate something important that the professor mentioned during the lecture that I need to remember that is directly related to the topic, usually this signifier is used for something that I think will be asked on the exam.

At some point after lecture, prior to the exam, I review my notes along with the textbook reading and the professor’s PowerPoint presentation. This is where the side notes system comes in. I simultaneously read my lecture notes with the PowerPoint and add or note anything that is on the slides that I happened to miss during class. Afterwards, I do the same thing, except with my textbook. Doing this helps me go through the information at least two more times before the exam, which helps with retention. If you count, by this time, I am on my third reading:

-          Before class

-          During class (lecture)

-          Review prior to exam

After this whole process, I then take the time to read through both my side notes and written notes to make sure that I have ingested them completely. This helps me make sure that I have clearly understood the major components of each lecture well enough so that I can regurgitate them as needed.

Overall, it gives me a highly unnecessary and ridiculous sense of satisfaction when I look down at my notebooks and see that I’ve scribbled all over them. I feel like my efforts are tangible, and quite frankly, sometimes that’s all you need to get you through the day.