A couple weekends ago, I wrangled a few friends (Rob, Tom, and William) into joining me for participation in OBJECT JAM, a neat little game jam proposed by someone on Twitter, wherein you invent games for physical objects (rather than for computers or consoles). I was thinking of it as kind of a retake of the kind of game a lot of us grew up playing, either with play-designed objects (toys) or by finding whatever was lying around on the floor or the ground. But most of the (visible) participants in Object Jam are people who've by now played (and made) a lot of video/computer games, as well as, y'know, grown up and developed different tastes and attention spans from what we had as five-year-olds (perhaps).

The result was one of the most fun 6-ish hours I've spent in the past few years. The best part about it to me in contrast to a workin'-on-computers game jam was that we were effectively all making games for each other and then playing them with each other. This jam felt fundamentally social. It's pretty easy to come up with some idea and post it on twitter, but actually assembling the pieces, testing it out, noticing some imbalances, and iterating on the design of something you wouldn't otherwise take so seriously... brought a lot of depth to it, made it into a bonding experience. There's probably nothing that makes me happier than making, sharing and discussing things with people that I like. The making doesn't even have to be collaborative; maybe even better if it's not.

Now some games! First, here are ones that I designed, implemented, and playtested:


Game for piece of paper and n players (tested with n=2). Take turns folding the paper, not necessarily in half, until you can't fold it anymore (it does not lie flat).

PLAYTEST NOTES: We conjectured that this would be better as a collaborative game, "improvisational origami", where the goal is just to make something pretty. I tweeted that idea as the primary version of the game and described the above as an "adversarial variant."


Game for n players and n books. Players gather in a circle. Each player takes a book and opens to somewhere near the middle. Take turns reading the last full sentence on the left page, then turning the page. Stop when someone reads a sentence that's 3 words long or fewer (or when bored).

PLAYTEST NOTES: Science fiction books work well for this.


Game for chair and two players. Player One sets up the chair. Player Two must sit in it (butt touching chair, weight resting on chair) and maintain stability. Alternate until Player Two falls over and gets hurt.

PLAYTEST NOTES: this game is dangerous and surprisingly fun


Game for post-it notes, William's house, and various objects within said house. Sorry, this one is not very cross-platform, but you could probably come up with something similar for the rooms and objects in your house. I put post-its on game-relevant things and announced the convention that pink = takeable, yellow = openable, and orange = information.

PLAYTEST NOTES: This actually worked pretty well for three separate playthroughs. Tom took a Vine of Rob playing.


Here are some games I came up with but didn't actually playtest:


Game for any board game and 1 player. Set up the game. Read the rules aloud. Sit still & meditate upon the board. Tidy up after.

NOTES: Twitter liked this one, and one game designer I follow made some good suggestions for a multiplayer variant. I especially like the analogy between rules reading and guided meditation.


A sort of minimalist betting game for n players with pocket change and 1 bowl. Players deposit all pocket change into a bowl. Everyone writes down a guess for the total amount of money in it. Reveal guesses. Closest answer gets the change, may trade for bills with other players. (anticapitalist variant)


Everyone secretly picks a spice from the spice cabinet and adds a couple of shakes of it to a communal bowl. Then, the bowl is brought to a gathering spot and passed around. Players may smell and taste the contents. Winner is who correctly identifies the most spices in the bowl.


Others' games:

  • TETRAHEROES made by Tom7 and William is a large-scale object adventure game built on the grass rug in William's living room. Here is a video recording of Rob and me playing it, which is pretty much my favorite thing on the internet right now.
  • a game by a dog!
  • full list of games tagged with #objectjam on twitter


Related thing: pervasive games

Date: 2013-05-22 06:54 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] relaxatorium.livejournal.com
Coins in a Bowl is super similar to something I heard indie rock dude Phil Elverum discussing recently on a podcast because touring produces too much paper money (merch table, etc.) and boredom. The game is called Wad Lord. It seems like the horrifying, high stakes version of Coins in a Bowl, plus someone is required to wear a fake beard (the titular Wad Lord).

From the guy himself:

This is not a game that can be played on the internet. It's called Wad Lord because it's about the WAD. The core of the game is the period after the Lord has assembled the Wad and passes it around to all the players. Each player has the opportunity to examine the Wad, smelling it, squeezing it, looking at it from all angles, weighing it, etc. A good Wad Lord will have made a Wad that doesn't reveal too much, but just titillating enough to give some hints. Ideally it is held together by a rubber band or a paperclip. (Incidentally, it's also not a game that can be played with non-US currency as different colored/sized bills would reveal too much.)

To clarify, game play goes like this:
-Players submit concealed US bills to the Wad Lord and announce HOW MANY bills they are submitting, keeping a mental note of their submitted amount.
-The Wad Lord goes off somewhere and assembles the Wad. (The Lord can throw some twists here by putting a 20 or a 100 on the outside of the wad, if available.)
-The total quantity of bills is announced.
-Players one by one get to examine the Wad, under the watchful eyes of the Lord and all opponents. They are allowed to do anything to the Wad besides disassemble it. Weight and smell and taste are informative factors that have come into play.
-Players write their guess on a small scrap of paper face down in front of them.
-Guesses are revealed.
-The Wad Lord (as dramatically as possible) opens the Wad and counts it out on the ground with everyone yelling and weeping as their guess is surpassed.
-Whoever is closest (over, under, doesn't matter) gets ALL THE MONEY.

(Split Wads do happen. Once I was exactly the same number off from another player, him over, me under, and we split the Wad 50/50.)

Wild Wad is what's described above. No limit, high rollers encouraged, raw and dangerous.
Limit Wad is just that: some pre-chosen submission limit. This version is not as good.

This game comes from the ultra-real world of DIY punk show merch table vinyl trafficking where Wads of cash are common. It's meant to be played late at night when people are cleaning up after some calamity (like a punk show) and only 1 or 3 rounds played. It's not sustainable for a long evening of friendly gaming. It's fast and high-stakes and eliminates people quickly. Much like real life or Monopoly or Settlers, it favors the ultra-wealthy, as long as they are willing to risk their 100s.

My favorite Wad Lord games have been with my friend who looks like a hobo wanderer but frequently has 100 dollar bills on him (under-the-table construction work). His appearance is misleading and he uses this fact to his advantage, throwing in 2 or 3 hundred dollars and winning Wads. Of course you can only do this trick once, so that's why this game is so well-suited to the itinerant world of the touring musician. New town every day, new faces, new unknown Wads.
Edited Date: 2013-05-22 06:54 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-05-23 06:06 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] kepod.livejournal.com
"Spices in a bowl" sounds suspiciously like that Mystery Hunt puzzle I suspect gave me a virus this year.

Date: 2013-05-29 12:51 am (UTC)From: [identity profile] gwillen.livejournal.com
Hah, I was just going to comment that we made a Mystery Hunt puzzle that was just like Spices in a Bowl. I was a playtester on it; it is a _much_ more difficult game than the authors expected.

Date: 2013-05-22 08:13 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] tak0
tak0: (Default)
mannnnnnn i want to go back in time and be there

i liked "Do Not Pass Go" specifically because it gets at one of the ways i fail at liking board games, which is that i am interested in learning how a game works and what its rules are, but once i understand its nature, i somewhy lose interest in actually playing it.

Date: 2013-05-23 09:06 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] relaxatorium.livejournal.com
Interesting, I am the precise opposite. I enjoy complicated board-games, but the ten minute part beforehand where the rules are explained inevitably feels like the most boring half-hour of my life.

I vastly prefer learning the game from the inside-out, rather than outside in.

This feels like it should be generalizable into something about personality types, but I am not sure what.

Date: 2013-05-24 03:15 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] tak0
tak0: (Default)
i sort of have that trait too, but for me i think they're related, because of the whole "i lose interest once i understand the rules" thing. if i can at least learn as we go, i can avoid losing interest for awhile (but also will probably play very badly and then be losing and be mad at myself).

really i think my problem with board games is i'm too competitive. :/

Date: 2013-05-23 03:30 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] ikeepaleopard
ikeepaleopard: (Default)
That sounds super fun. I saw the twitter stuff and it was kind of inexplicable but I was definitely jealous.

We once played Do Not Pass Go with the enormously complicated Dune board game that was lying around Sherbrooke.

Date: 2013-05-23 12:57 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] gregh1983
gregh1983: (Default)
Sounds like fun! Creating ad-hoc games with physical objects seems like one of those things you ("one") used to do all the time kind of by default when you were a kid, so it's always nice to recapture that sort of experience.

It reminds me a little of this thing we did once at Roselawn 7.

Date: 2013-05-24 03:15 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] tak0
tak0: (Default)
that video hella reminded me of the games i'd play with my brother as a kid.

Date: 2013-05-25 03:32 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] gregh1983
gregh1983: (Default)
Video? ":-D" for the rest, though!

Date: 2013-05-25 06:47 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] tak0
tak0: (Default)
the one chris linked to!

Date: 2013-05-24 11:51 am (UTC)From: [identity profile] jcreed.livejournal.com
I am perplexed by Sit. What does it mean to "set up" the chair? Who is alternating doing what?

Date: 2013-05-24 11:52 am (UTC)From: [identity profile] jcreed.livejournal.com
(the first thing I should have said is that this is all totally awesome and I also wish I could have been there)

Date: 2013-06-04 08:34 am (UTC)From: [identity profile] chronicfreetime.livejournal.com
"Sit" sounds like great fun. I fear the chair would lose, though.

Now I want to come up with rules for a turn-based variant of Joust.



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