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.

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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.

What it's Worth: Letting Go

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been thinking about recent events that have happened in my life that forced me to sell some of my beloved pencil collection.  Long story short, had a car accident, needed to pay $1000 deductible, didn't have that money, had to sell Blackwing Limited Edition pencils.  At the time, the thought of parting with those pencils was painful.  Yeah, I know they sat in a box within a box in my office and I had not looked at them for months, but they were "special" and worth something.  Every hobby has the same affliction-- the fear of missing out.  I buy every limited edition item from Blackwing, Write, and Field Notes and stash them away-- for what I don't know.  I see posts in the group about acquiring the latest and greatest things and just HAVE to have that item.  After all, I have a blog to maintain and readers to please and if I don't keep up, I will become irrelevant.  Every quarter, $100 or so dollars leaves my bank account and I put the items away never to be pulled out again (for the most part).

When I think about why I got into this hobby, I think about how I originally used pencils.  That's the key word: USED.  I USED pencils.  I did not squirrel them away, I bought collectible items to use them.  I enjoyed sharpening up a 211 and writing with that thing until I had a little nub of a pencil.  Somehow along the way, I lost that wonderment and instead became swept up in this "need to have it" current.  So getting back to two weeks ago, I listed a bunch of my Blackwings and a few notebooks in the Erasable Facebook group and everything sold in about four hours.  I made $500.  Five hundred dollars that would have otherwise been sitting on my shelf.  My pencils bailed me out of a tight spot.  Pencils that I really would not have ever used.  This prompted me to think about my priorities which then made me make some changes.  I rather use what I've got than stockpile pencils or notebooks I will never use.  That's not to say I won't purchase new things, but those purchases will be calculated and thought out.  Not knee jerk "have to buy or else" for fear of missing out.  My blog has a large enough following that I think talking about using items will be more appreciated than talking about new items.  There are other stationery blogs out there that can take that place of talking about new things.  For me, I will use and tell all of you about it.  What good is a pencil anyway if one does not use it? 

CW Pencils Pencil Box Subscription

These days, it seems as though everyone is getting in on the subscription business.  The latest entry into the arena is CW Pencil Enterprise.  The quarterly subscription service is $120 for a year, but it is paid in four installments.  This model is unique in the stationery subscription service model since it allows you to cancel mid subscription.  Also, for those that have a hard time coming up with a large chunk of money at once, $30 at a time makes it easier.  According to the description on the website, the pencil box is guaranteed to contain:

  • At least 3 pencils
  • At least 1 pencil accessory (sharpener, eraser, extender, etc)
  • A wild card item (notebook, pencil case, more accessories)
  • Exclusive ephemera
  • Whatever else we are excited about

Now that the details are out of the way, let's get to the contents of the box.  I will list each item and its fair market value.  Afterwords, I will talk a bit about my thoughts on the subscription service itself.

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General's SEMI-HEX #1 - $0.67

Papermate MONGOL 480 #2 - $0.17

Caran d'Ache Technograph - $3.00

Koh-i-Noor Original Magic FX - $3.00

Stationers Inc. Reporters Notebook - $1.98

Faber Castell Double Hole Sharpener - $4.95

Doppel-Laufer Universal Eraser - $0.37

Exclusive Postcard/Pamphlet - $2.00

Shipping/Materials - $10.00

TOTAL: $26.14

Now let me state the obvious and get it out of the way here: the value of the items in the box does not equal $30.  BUT.  You are not just paying for items in a box.  You have to factor in materials and labor to pack the box as well as shipping costs.  You are paying for the thoughtful, intentional selection of pencil paraphernalia.  You are paying for an experience.  Also, this is the first subscription box from CW, so I am sure there are exciting things in the works.  I'd like to revisit the whole cost/value issue after a year's worth of boxes.  I would like to see more exclusive stuff like enamel pins, patches, stickers,etc.  And as far as themes go, I'd love to see a Japanese box, a vintage (with actual vintage items inside) box, and (well this is Dee specific) an all things neon box.  My final verdict on the subscription: BUY IT.  This little collection of items are things that I would not have tried out otherwise and love how everything stays related to the theme.  Nowhere else can you find a personal pencil curator to satisfy your pencilly needs.

***NOTE: I paid for this subscription with my own monies***

It's just pencils! Or is it?

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After much thought and great discussion over on the Erasable Facebook group, I felt compelled to make a blog posting about the issue of Blackwing Volumes and their seemingly white, male-dominated lineup.  Before I get to the meat of the issue, I am in no way knocking Palomino-- they have done great things with the brand and provide awesome customer service and I am positive there was no intent to have a lack of diversity in the Blackwing Volumes line.  But that's just it.  The seemingly accidental overlooking of amazing people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, and other marginalized folks is not so.  Leaving out those groups is not intentional, but it is so deeply seated and natural for the majority to do so, that they do not see that they marginalize.  The only way for the world to change is to have companies or individuals use their power to bring light to these issues and take a stance-- a stance that should be the norm.  When inclusiveness is the norm, things might just be a bit better for the world (and for sales!).  Here are some ideas I have for future Blackwing Volumes: George Washington Carver - 44  George Washington Carver was known as the "Peanut Man" and is known for his research into alternative crops to cotton such as peanuts and sweet potatoes.  His angle was that poor farmers could grow alternative crops to provide food for their families and develop other products to improve quality of life.  Carver also promoted environmentalism and released 44 practical bulletins for farmers with information on recipes for peanuts and peanut products.  From Wikipedia: "In 1921 peanut farmers and industry representatives planned to appear at Congressional hearings to ask for a tariff. Based on the quality of Carver's presentation at their convention, they asked the African-American professor to testify on the tariff issue before the Ways and Means Committee of the United States House of Representatives. Due to segregation, it was highly unusual for an African American to appear as an expert witness at Congress representing European-American industry and farmers."

A Blackwing Volumes edition for Carver would feature crimson colored pencil with a gold ferrule and tan eraser.  Crimson and gold are Tuskegee's college colors and tan would be representative of peanuts.  It would be stamped with the number 44 as a nod to the 44 bulletins he released for farmers to promote the use of peanuts on their farms.

Susan B. Anthony - 19  Susan B. Anthony was a feminist who was deeply involved in the women's suffrage movement.  At the age of 17, she collected anti-slavery petitions and in 1856, she became the New York agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society.  Anthony also played a critical role in creating the International Council of Women.  One hundred years after her birth, women finally were granted the right to vote on August 18, 1920.

This pencil could be either green with a purple eraser or purple with a green eraser.  Both would have a white painted ferrule.  This is a nod to the symbolic suffrage colors of purple, white, and green used on banners and pins promoting the cause.  The number 19 would be used to represent the 19th amendment to the constitution allowing women to vote.

Stonewall - 1969  The Stonewall riots were a series of demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ community against a police raid that took place at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969.  In the 1950s and 60s, gay Americans faced a very anti-gay legal system and as such, not many establishments welcomed openly gay people.  The Stonewall Inn catered to an assortment of individuals and was known to be popular among the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, transgender people, effeminate young men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless youth.  A year later, in 1970, the first Gay Pride would take place in NYC.  The Stonewall National Monument was established a month ago by President Obama and it includes Christoper Park and the Stonewall Inn.

This Volumes edition would be a no brainer-- RAINBOWS!

I hope that those of you who have read this have been inspired.  Those that feel uncomfortable regarding this blog post-- good.  That's what its supposed to do to some.  It's high time we start having those uncomfortable conversations and unpacking difficult topics.  After all, it's just not about pencils.