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

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The Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge, and Other Curiosities

Thousand Year Game Design Challenge

First, my article about the copyrightability (or otherwise) of games has attracted plenty of interest — over 800 visits in the past four days, which for my little blog is remarkable! — largely thanks to the mention on BoardGameGeek News. The comments here and on the BGG News post demonstrate both the strength of feeling and division of opinion engendered by this topic, and I will follow-up the post soon with some new and hopefully helpful facts and insight. Watch this space!

Elsewhere, a post by Dave Dobson over at the Plankton Games Journal alerted me to the results of this year’s Hippodice game design contest in Germany. My own entry Oracle Pathway failed to make the cut early on, and Dave observes that the selection of winners this year is decidedly more home-grown than in recent contests. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and it’s hardly surprising that German designers should flourish in a German competition. Looking at the photographs and descriptions of the winning collection of games is always instructive — and mildly frustrating since the limited details leave so many questions unanswered. Certainly, many of this year’s crop have the look and feel of the classic cube-pushing Eurogame. Hearty congratulations to all the winners!

There are two other intriguing contests out there that I wanted to mention. Over at Spielmaterial, the current contest — whose deadline appears to have recently been extended to the end of the year — invites boardgamers to design the meeple or pawn of their dreams. The winning design will be made available on the site, presumably sometime in 2012. So, if you’ve ever dreamt of an as-yet-unavailable meeple or pawn, then now is your chance!

Another design contest out there on the interwebs and already attracting entries is Daniel Solis’ intriguingly titled Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge. Daniel is an American art director and game designer, and if you’ve never read his blog or studied his fantastic game designs, then you’ve been missing a treat. Daniel initiated his contest in January and designers have until the end of July to enter. Last month’s update gives a feel for some of the entries already submitted, but I think the project’s appeal comes from its focus, which Daniel describes as follows:

To support games designed for longevity — that can be learned, played and shared for hundreds of years — we offer this challenge to any game designers, artists and imaginative people who also share this desire.

Most modern games — indeed, most modern forms of entertainment — are, by definition and design, essentially ephemeral. This is no criticism, although it might be considered a failure of ambition. Daniel is deliberately challenging this received wisdom by promoting a goal so daring that it is almost antithetical to every other game design contest out there. The challenge is more aspirational than practical; its precepts vague; its conditions of victory untestable. What does it even mean to attempt to design a game that might be playable in a thousand years?

The value of the question, of course, is in its asking. And whatever the answer, surely it won’t — shouldn’t — resemble anything like the cosy cube-pushing Euros of the Hippodice contest. But neither can it be unknowably alien. It must be at once both new and familiar: the retelling of a myth.

In this work are exhibited in a very high degree the two most engaging powers of an author. New things are made familiar, and familiar things are made new.

Samuel Johnson, The Life of Alexander Pope

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