BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.


Announcing Keyhole Games!

In which — in this, BrettSpiel’s 100th post! — I announce my very own game publishing venture, Keyhole Games, and its first publication: LOOP.

Only the most inquisitive of readers will have spotted the approach of this particular milestone, but this is, believe it or not, BrettSpiel’s 100th post! So, you know, well done me. [Pats self on back.] My traffic stats tell me many, many things about my visitors, for example that of the tens of thousands of visits I have enjoyed in the past 410 days precisely one person has visited from Kazakhstan. Hello Astana!

Anyway, how better to celebrate this historic event (the 100th post that is, not the visitor from Kazakhstan) than to stop merely talking about board game publishing, but to actually do it? And so today Keyhole Games is born; and arrives kicking, screaming and generally not behaving itself after a somewhat ponderous gestation.

So, what is Keyhole Games, and what is LOOP? The publisher is all me, and the game all mine. The idea for the Keyhole Games has been bubbling away in my head for at least two years (I registered the domain name in 2008); LOOP itself is much older. This means I have had plenty of time to sit and think, but in all things there must come a time when the sitting and the thinking is done. Now is that time.

Every child is an artist. The challenge is to remain an artist after you grow up.

Pablo Picasso

I have set myself a target of ‘autumn’ this year to publish and to make the game available for purchase from the Keyhole Games website. The design work is almost all done so from here on out it is, in theory, just a matter of logisitics. It could all go wrong, of course, but I think it has a jolly good chance of all going right, so fingers crossed. To make things easier for myself I have prepared a mental ‘to do’ list to carry around with me at all times. Fortunately it’s quite short:

Keyhole Games: To Do

1. Just get on with it.
2. There is no point 2.

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Monopoly? It’s Been Around For Ages!

One of Wired’s self-styled ‘GeekDads’ has posted this intriguing image of Monopoly: Revolution, Hasbro’s latest incarnation of the classic board game designed and published to coincide with its 75th anniversary. Apparently it comes without paper money — which is so last-century, no? — preferring to keep track of the players’ finances using electronic ‘debit’ cards instead.

The graphic design of the board — oh, and its conspicuous roundness — clearly aims to celebrate something old and familiar by reimagining it as something new and surprising, deliberately dispensing with any remnant of the classic livery and layout. But is that a good thing? The essence of the Monopoly brand, after all, is it’s heritage and tradition, and this edition, though certainly novel, lacks that bred-in-the-bone charm that otherwise drives the brand’s enduring popularity.

It’s certainly a cute attempt to be different, even if the result is to take something timeless and carefully render it utterly ephemeral.


The Beautiful Game #003: Iconica

The internet is the engine of serendipity, and quite without looking I managed to stumble over Iconica: Game of Strategy at the weekend. My jaw dropped a little; I’d never heard of Iconica (and I’d wager that you haven’t either) but it offered some quite unexpectedly impressive and intriguing graphic design. My interest was most definitely piqued!

Digging a little deeper revealed that the game was the brain-child of Eric Torres, a writer, illustrator and designer from Phoenix, Arizona, who has imagined not just a game, but an entire fantasy world to go with it: The World of Rynaga. He has written and published an illustrated book called Prelude, and writes a blog where you can keep up with Eric’s latest developments.

I think it’s possible to make an argument that game design is, or at least should be, all about the story — in which case no-one can suggest that Eric hasn’t taken his story very seriously indeed. And if you are a game designer tired of the same-old-same-old Eurogame themes — the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, the Stone Age, etc. — then how better to banish this ennui than simply to create an entire world of your own from scratch and set your game within it?

Eric has been kind enough to give me permission to republish some of his photography here, but follow the links above to see and find out more. I’ll keep a weather-eye on Iconica and report back with more news in a while!


‘Board Game’ vs ‘Boardgame’

In which I debate an issue of extremely limited importance.

The vagaries of the English language mean that we have two perfectly viable ways to write the very same nine letters, and I was recently given to wonder which of these two forms might be considered, assuming that you are in any way bothered about considering such things, more correct. This is an example where the ‘wisdom of crowds’ argument is likely to be the strongest, and who (or what) better to settle this than Google, the biggest and most easily accessible crowd there is.

A simple comparative search for either board game or boardgame yields some convincing numbers. The first search returns a whopping 174,000,000 results (give or take a few), the second a comparatively paltry 7,710,000, which puts the frequency and use of the two in a ratio of around 23:1. However, Google is smarter than me, and hence needs to be given more specific instructions to prevent it thinking for itself. That first search — and this is obvious just by looking — returns far more than just those results composed of ‘board game’ written as two words.

So, a more meaningful comparative search is “board game” or “boardgame” (we now include the quotes to limit Google’s algorithm) which returns results in far lower number and in a less compelling ratio. Now the first search has ‘only’ 6,700,000 results, the second ‘just’ 936,000: a ratio of around 7:1.

Still pretty convincing, but the community is hardly in agreement; consider, if you will, the twin online pillars of BoardGameGeek and Boardgame News. And the industry at large cannot make up its mind either…

The real question, I would argue, is whether the two forms should be considered to have any semantic distinction. Consider the parallel question of whether card game or cardgame is more correct. This might seem a rather foolish question, at least in English; no-one would ever write ‘cardgame’ on a box, would they? No, but boardgaming linguists are probably aware that in Germany, land of the brettspiel and the kartenspiel, this entire argument is moot. But see what I did there! I wrote ‘boardgaming linguists’, which is surely more correct than ‘board gaming linguists’.

Here’s my (rather laboured) point. In English, neither form is wrong in some absolute sense. A game with a board is clearly a ‘board game’, but the community has taken the use of that compound noun further, and has created a compound verb all of their own: ‘to boardgame’. I boardgame; you boardgame; he, she, we and they all boardgame.

The English language has a fine tradition of taking perfectly decent compound nouns and making perfectly decent compound verbs out of them, and often these new verbs are, over time, concatenated to reflect the way that the once-separate words become more usually run together in speech when used as a verb.

The benefit of this slurring of the language is that boardgame as a verb can describe an entire class of activity, one that isn’t limited to simply playing ‘games with boards’. People who indulge (generally in the privacy of their own homes) their ludological vices can therefore play board games, card games, party games, dexterity games, anything-you-can-think-of games and still be considered boardgamers through and through, one and all.

Phew! I’m glad I got that off my chest. Although I am reminded of some advice I read a long time ago, when I used to edit technical textbooks for a living…

When established idiom clashes with grammar, correctness is on the side of the idiom. Put another way, if sticking grimly to the rules of grammar makes you sound like a pompous pedant, you are a pompous pedant.

William Safire

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