Monthly Archives: May 2013

Squishy Challenge: Pre-Emptive Strike

This is a bit… broad and abstract at the moment, as a response to this week’s Squishy Challenge. But I’m running with it. Oh, it also turned out like twice as long as I intended it to, but… that’s just me, I think.

The game is called Pre-Emptive Strike.

You play two countries at war (there may be a way to expand it to three or more, not sure), and the general setup is a board-game equivalent of a Real Time Strategy game. Every player has a board in front of them with a few locations on it: a military barracks, a power plant, a science center… and a time machine.

You have three resources represented by different tokens: soldiers, energy, and research; you start with three tokens on the appropriate locations (soldier at the barracks, etc.), and will get one more of each at the end of each turn. The time machine doesn’t generate anything. You also have a hand of cards in three varieties: battle, structure, and technology.

Battle cards work rather like Cosmic Encounter; if you initiate a battle with another player, you put forth some number of soldiers and a battle card, most of which have a number between 1 and 10, that you keep secret. The other player does the same, and then you reveal the cards; whomever has the higher card+soldier number wins (with ties going to the defender). Whomever loses, loses the soldiers, and if the attackers win then the defender puts a “damage” token on their board. Five of them, and their country is overtaken, and they lose.

Technology cards can be used in battle instead of battle cards, and have special effects, if you can pay their energy cost. For instance, one might triple the number of soldiers you have, but cost three energy to use, and another might negate the opponent’s battle card, forcing you to fight with soldiers only, and that costs one energy. Some tech cards are for use on your turn outside of battle, but they’re still one-use cards that require energy.

Structure cards will go down on your board, and structures do useful things; some upgrade your existing locations, so they generate energy faster, others can be new structures entirely, like a shield generator which prevents you from being attacked if you spend, oh, ten energy to turn it on. Stuff like that.

You don’t just GET cards though. Battle cards you need to buy, by spending soldiers to draw cards. Technology and Structures you need to earn as well, Technology by spending a research token to draw a card, and then paying the price in research tokens, and buildings by picking the card off of the table (the other players get to see what you’re building) and paying its price in research, energy, and/or soldiers (who will be reassigned to actually building the structure). Most structures are upgradeable (often by the simple expedient of paying the cost and flipping the structure over) and there may be an element of a tech tree… you can’t have the city-shield without at least a level-two power plant, perhaps.

“Ed. Ed,” you say, “This is all well and good, I suppose, but didn’t you say ‘time machine’ up in paragraph one?”

I did not.

“I’m certain you did!”

Oh, all right, I did. Here’s the deal, you have a time machine. You soldiers are time troopers, your ‘battle’ cards are really temporally-duplicated instances of a single soldier, your technology cards are all about time-effects… mass-duplication, aging rays, rewriting the enemy’s training to have been less effective, etc., and your structures are also time-based… the city-shield is a static time-bubble. But that’s theme. That’s flavor. The real deal is this: your time machine lets you use buildings that don’t exist yet, and field soldiers that you don’t have. How? Easy, if you need something, ANYTHING, just grab if from the table. You need two soldiers right now, just grab them from the pile of tokens, and while you’re there, grab a two more. The latter two you will place on a little zone of your board called “paradox”, along with a paradox token. That’s the paradox you’ve created, so on your next turn, you need to spend two soldiers, along with one energy for every token (that’s two for the soldiers plus one paradox token for three total), to send your soldiers back in time. OR, if you can’t, you get another paradox token, and try again next turn.

You start with one paradox zone, but of course you can gain more by upgrading your time machine. You lose if you get ten paradox tokens, because time tears itself apart.

And you can send ANYTHING back into the past… a technology, research, energy… even a battle card! But sending a “10” card back into the past means that you have until you earn ten paradox tokens to not just get a new battle card, but get a new “10” battle card. That’s dangerous. But, on the short term, oh, so useful!

“This is neat and all, Ed, but how does this even relate to the challenge theme?”

Ah, well, there are three ways to lose. Get taken over. Create an untenable paradox. Or engineer a snapback. A snapback happens when a country realizes is cannot win the war, but if it sets of a nuke on its own terrain and directs the energy into the time machine, it might just send some valuable resources back to itself, before the war even began, resetting the entire game.

To snapback (which causes you to lose, remember), take all the cards in your hand… and put them in your pocket. Pack up the rest of the game. Put it away. Say “good game,” because you’ve lost… you nuked your own territory into the dirt.

But next time you play, you can pull those cards OUT of your pocket, as a mess of high battle cards and useful technologies just appears in your hands out of nowhere, sent from the future.

So now, as a player, if you’re losing, the question must ever be on your mind: do I fight back and try to win? Do I sacrifice now, and have a better shot next time? OR do I try to get a better hand so my next game will be EVEN BETTER, and risk being defeated in the meantime?

Decisions, decisions.


Game Chef: Synanthropes.

Right here: Synanthropes

(Edited to add: Some longer discussion is available here, and the second, slightly improved version is here,)

Game Chef: Synanthropes

So, I’ve been Game Chefing. It’s not done yet, but I’ve made a bunch of progress on Synanthropes, the game about evolved descendants of urban animals exploring human ruins.

Since the in-progress document is freely available on the Praxis forums, I thought I might as well make it public here as well, for those who are interested. Warning: It’s an in-progress document, and isn’t very well organized at this precise moment.

Here you go!


Game Chef Brainstorming V. II

I’ve been having some problems with Game Chef.

Now, admittedly, that’s not unusual. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve given up on an idea jam or other creative challenge only to get a new idea and run with that until the end, I’d have about a nickel for every idea jam or creative challenge I’ve completed. But it does frustrate.

Mad scientists killing one another through a game of Hearts gone awry is what I got last time, but I’ve got no steam in working with it, so I want to keep thinking and see if something else comes forth.

Elements that I want to keep:

  • It should be a Story Game. In part because, historically, those are served well in this contest (as opposed to what I’ll call Setting Games for the moment… games in which the rules allow for interactions but don’t create inherent narratives), and in part because, well, that’s what I’d like to make.
  • It should be fun. What I think of as fun, specifically. I should want to play it, because that will make me care.
  • It should do something new and strange mechanically. At least something unusual.

So. With those in mind, let me again consider the elements.

liftThe uppy-downy person. I still like this as “Human but not quite human,” an indication of distance, be it physical or metaphysical. Scientists, sure, but what else? Anyone who might be considered an “Observer” would fit in just fine. A superhero. Or perhaps a mutant… a post-apocalyptic post-human.

apple-maggotInsect. Corruption and mutation, but maybe a positive spin. Something new, emerging. Discovery.


Face. Snow. Hell if I know.

mail-shirtCoat. Mail. Protection. Protective gear. Jewels. Riches. Suit of Diamonds as in cards. Magic. Don’t know.

paper-lanternLantern. Darkness. Shadows. Discovery. Exploration! Light and darkness, combing through the unexpected and unexplored and so on and so forth. Combing through ruins in search of the answer.


The world ended. The apocalypse came and went and humans with it, and all that survive are the mutated remnants of what came after. Ah, sounds fun already!

Let’s take a similar tack, with a sci-fi twist. We’re on a spaceship, a billion light-years from earth. All the occupants died long, long ago. All the human occupants. But where humans go, they bring rats. Rats, which reproduce and overpopulate and die off and find the grain stores and sleep on the nuclear pile and mutate and change and create a rudimentary system of agriculture.

Maybe it’s not on a spaceship. Maybe it’s on Earth, and all the animals that are human but not quite are there… rats, crows, and roaches. City-animals, synanthropes, folks who emerge from the trash into a world with a huge legacy.

And maybe some of them are explorers.

And maybe some tall buildings have survived.

And maybe the explorers… the anthropologists… are seeking out information on the human legacy… discovering what the past was like, and sharing the legends of humanity from long ago.

We arrive at the remaining skyscraper. A team of creatures, the Resource War only recently over. Rat-folk, Crow-folk, Roach-folk and some others. Raccoons and foxes, pigeons and gulls. The creatures that once relied on humanity’s existance, but not their care… cattle and chickens died off, and domesticated dogs and cats just went feral. It was the synanthropes who gained sentience, emulating the now-missing humans.

And where are the humans? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? The answer is at the top of the tower. We just have to get there. Every floor is a scene… a challenge, a discovery, and a legend. We find an artifact and consider it not as humans do, but as rats and crows and roaches do… as cultures that don’t know what this technology could be.

Every player represents a different species, each sees the humans differently. They are like gods to the rats, demons to the roaches, but powerful to everyone. Much of the game will be about this interpretation. And every species is different, and the dangers that do crop up (though they will be fewer indeed than the artifacts which must be studied) will be handled differently when, for instance, one explorer can fly and the others can’t. Will there be arguments? Fights? Will someone be left behind? More importantly, will they make it to the top, and when they get there, will they discover where the humans went?

Feeling good about this one.

Game Chef 2013 brainstorming!

Game Chef is upon us.

Let’s brainstorm.
We’re doing this in pictures this year, which is keen. The theme:


A person in an arrow that goes up and down. The arrow is interesting enough, as it can be a lot of things… physical movement, as in an elevator, metaphorical movement as in hierarchies, some combination of the two. It might not even be movement, simply an awareness or focus on verticality, or feeling somehow in the middle. The figure within it is, in my mind, ominous; the square, white eyes call to mind the blank glasses of an anime villain, lurking in the shadows but for the glare. The shape also sells me on the idea of glasses, rather than eyes… that said, the closest thing to a defined feature on this fellow is his/her/its eyes, which could be something to focus on. Sight, looking, seeing, searching… visual metaphors in general.

What I most get from this is a certain sort of person… I can see a scientist or academic here, with the glasses suggesting (fairly or not) intelligence and interest but distance and dispassion as well. He’s looking at me, but not because he likes to see me, just because he wants to know what happens next. Factoring in the double-sided arrow emphasizes the “distance” element… he doesn’t necessarily consider himself to be above humanity, but he DOES consider himself to be somehow apart from it. Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen would be a good example… interested, distant and, yes, forboding.

That’s a rich bit of theme to mine. The elements to include:


A… snowflake in someone’s head. Huh. So, this is the strangest of the four elements, and the one I’m most likely to ignore at first blush, but I’m still going to think about what it can contribute. Offhand, the face has a certain skull-like smile to it… it’s an omen of death, one which has been touched by frost. Or at least, a mental conception thereof. The snowflake is a bit of a paradox, like winter itself… both ordered, still, predictable (winter is a time of stasis and all snowflakes take a recognizable form) while chaotic, changing, and unknowable (winter is a massive change, snowflakes are fractal and unique). It could represent a more generalized “Death stemming from knowledge” for which the snowflake is just an example… but that’s a bit lame to me.


A bug bursting from an apple. Easy mode: the game features an insect. Alternate thoughts include corruption and decay, the presence of something alien (that doesn’t look like an earth worm to me), and impossible physics (that worm is way bigger than its apple). ALL of those send my internal Lovecraft sensor buzzing. Cosmic horror meshes very well with my interpretation of the theme… it suggests that the observers are alien, posing as human while being distant both in their outlook and their actual, factual nature. Of course, mundane corruption also flies high in scientific and academic arenas.

It also makes me realize that at this point I could pretty much reverse-engineer The Shab-al-Hiri Roach… academics and hiererchies, knowledge and things in your head, corruption and insects. Huh.


A shirt (robe? blouse? jerkin?) decorated with random diamonds. It can be considered to be mail or some other armor if you so desire, or with the diamonds indicating the shine of a cloth-of-gold or actual jewel-encrusted outfit of great value, or something else entirely. Motley, such as a fool should wear. Diamonds also bring to mind the suit in cards (and indeed, one could call this a part of a suit of diamonds). The garment is not modern, and makes me think wizard first and jester second, though one could make an argument for cultist, taking us back into Lovecraftian territory. Whomever wears this outfit is somehow marked as Other, distanced from those wearing normal clothes. More tangentially, it can indicate the pursuit of riches, or an identity which is somehow dependent on one’s outfit.


Finally, a figure barely illuminated by a lantern. Ah, stealth. Well, other options… shining a light to ward off the darkness, the lantern of truth, a lantern indicating discovery, all of these meshing really quite well with scientists in general. But I’m seeing stealth here, or at least a sharp distinction between what is seen and what must not be seen. The nature of the illustrations means there is no shadow… there is LIGHT and there is DARK and there is no room to maneuver in between them, and that tickles the amoral scientist center of my brain.

Initial conclusions: amoral scientists is golden and worth sticking to. Cosmic horror I’m a bit iffier on at the moment… but I do like the idea of corruption, secrets, and death, which all combines to suggest that if the players are indeed portraying folk of science, then they are conspiring to kill one of their own.

No, they’re conspiring to experiment upon one of their own. One of them is a madman, one of them is a victim, and the players might not know who is who at first… as time goes on, one player will grow madder than the rest as he/she/it gazes too far into the abyss, until it’s time to pull a Re-Animator and invest in a human test subject.

OH. Oh, I have a half an idea. Scenes played out in brief hands of cards, with the winner growing steadily madder… perhaps it’s a trick-taking game like hearts, each trick is a scene. When all hands have been taken, the tricks become narrative tokens, giving the maddest player the most power over the remaining scenes.

I think there’s a start here.

Steam and Honor

This was… intended to be a submission to the second Squishy Challenge. For a while it was about pirates shooting at one another. Then airships. Then it sort of got away from me.

Okay, it seriously and absolutely got so far away from me I can’t even see home from here. Like, I wanted a quick game of mild strategy, and this… this requires like a hundred specialty dice and isn’t even complete.  But dang, I like what I have so far.

The game: Steam and Honor.

The concept: A two-player game. You and your opponent are high-born, aristocratic lords and/or ladies of Victorian England. Somehow, one of you has dishonored the other, and the only acceptable reaction is to agree to a right proper duel in your lumbering, steam-powered battle mechs. As is only proper.

What you need: Dice! Lots of specialty dice in several flavors, all of which are six-sided (one could use regular d6s in various colors as substitutions, it would be a bit of a hassle). The only other item you need would be something you can use to prevent the opposing player from seeing how you’re arranging your dice. A little board would be helpful indeed, but because I’m stretching the bounds of the assignment by suggesting that you can use some paper to screen off your dice, I’ll say no board for now.

Oh, also you’ll want a little reference document for all the different symbols and components and whatnot. Because there are plenty.

Dice come in three broad varieties: Components, Steam, and Seconds. Also, there’s the initiative dice, which are just plain old six-siders.

Components dice represent the different attacks and maneuvers your mech has at its disposal. They come in three types: attacks (which itself breaks down into basic, melee and ranged), movement, and miscellaneous. Most components have a symbol on three to five faces, with the remaining faces being blank… the more accurate/reliable a weapon or maneuver, the fewer blank sides. A fuller list of what sorts of components exists below.

Steam dice represent, well, the steam which powers your machine. There are three varieties: white “functioning” dice, with a little puff of steam on three sides and three blank sides, yellow “leaky” dice with steam on two sides, and red “danger” dice with a puff of steam on one side. The puff of steam is considered a success, which powers components.

The essential thing to remember is this: you will roll component and steam dice together. If the component lands with its symbol up and at least one steam die rolls with the steam symbol up, that is a success, and every die that lands with a puff of steam up powers that success. For the “Punch” component, for instance, the component succeeding is a hit, doing a single damage for each puff of steam you roll with it.

Second dice represent your second, the person who’s assisting you in this due (probably a loyal valet or other trusted servant). The sides have multiple different symbols to represent what the second is doing for you: a wrench for repairing, a shovel for stoking the boiler, a steering wheel for acting as co-pilot and a teacup for serving you a refreshment. Different seconds have the symbols in different proportions (the “repairman” second has three wrenches, two shovels, one wheel and no tea, for instance).

How to play:
Each player selects, in secret, the components which make up his mech (two weapons, two movement options, and two miscellaneous components, along with all the basic attacks) and a second. They also pick up ten steam dice each, starting with the “functioning” dice, and leaving piles of the yellow and red ones and the extra whites in easy reach.

They then arrange their components in secret. They can use two attacks (one for each hand), one movement option, and up to two miscellaneous components. The components they don’t use can stay hidden, so their opponent won’t know what weapons they have until they use them. Next to each component, they put as many Steam dice as they want to use to power that component (minimum of one). They reveal their setup, then roll their second and initiative dice together; after resolving the effects of the second dice, whomever scored the higher initiative roll (re-rolling ties) goes first this round.

The first player picks any one of his components and rolls it and its steam. If the player rolls a component for an attack, and his opponent has a component that can be used as a reaction (a shield, for instance) she can roll that as well (reactions do NOT require the component to roll a success… every unit of steam rolled negates a unit of steam the attacker rolled, but some reactions have additional effects if the component is successful). Once that’s resolved, the other player may either pass or roll one component. Generally, each component can only be used once per round; the turn ends when each player is out of components or both pass.

When damage is dealt to a mech, the player who is damaged must “downshift” one steam die for each point of damage; either replacing a white die with yellow or yellow with red (or both, replacing white with red to account for two points of damage).

Players then hide their dice from one another, and once again arrange them for the next round. Play continues until one mech’s supply of steam is entirely red, at which point the machine breaks down and the other player is the winner, though both have reasserted their honor through a noble duel.

The following dice are just a sample; it’s pretty trivial to add additional components, as balancing is as simple as giving overpowered components fewer successful faces. Indeed, it would be great to have more movement options and many, many more miscellaneous bits, but my brain was running out.

Basic melee attacks. Both players have access to all of these. Most have four or five successful faces.

  • PUNCH: A successful punch is worth one damage per steam. OR can be used to block melee damage.
  • GRAPPLE: A successful grapple does no damage, but uses its steam to counter steam rolled on an opponent’s movement option.
  • HAYMAKER: A successful attack is worth two damage per steam (but this component only has three faces that succeed).
  • JAB: A successful jab only does one damage, but you may discard the failed steam dice, and the component may then be re-rolled indefinitely.

Melee weapons. More effective than basic attacks, but you have fewer options. Most have four successful faces.

  • HAMMER: Like a haymaker, but with four successful faces instead of three.
  • SHIELD: Can be used to shield bash, like a punch, or block damage from any source, melee or ranged.
  • RAPIER: Like a jab, but can also be used to block melee damage (using it to block disables it for the rest of the round).

Ranged. By an large, more powerful but less accurate, with about three successful faces.

  • CANNON: Every Cannon symbol is worth one damage for one steam, two for two, four for three, eight for four, and so on.
  • MISSILE BARRAGE: Each face has between 0 and 3 missile symbols on it. Does one damage per steam times the number of missiles.
  • PHOTONIC LANCE: A successful lance does one damage per steam. If the opponent has a reaction, it takes TWO steam to block every ONE unit of steam powering the photonic lance.
  • GRAPPLING HOOK: A successful attack divides its steam in two; half (rounded up) is damage inflicted, and half (rounded down) is used to counter movement like a standard grapple.

Movement. Tend to affect other rolls rather than accomplish anything on their own. More options here would be keen. Average of four successful faces, most likely.

  • LEGS: Used to evade, each steam can counter one steam from any ranged damage source. Additionally, used to be fast: a successful roll means your mech is moving quickly, and each success rolled counters one point of damage before it affects you.
  • JETS: Used to evade like Legs. Additionally, used to fly; a successful roll means that your mech is out of melee reach (i.e: Any hammer, grapple, etc. rolls will be useless on either side until this turn is over, though grappling hook might still counter them).
  • STABILIZING GYROS: On a successful roll, you can re-roll the component die on a ranged weapon attack once for each unit of steam you roll.

Miscellaneous. Total grab bag in terms of effects and accuracy. Would like to add a LOT more here.

  • EMERGENCY SHUNT: This component has no blank faces–it will always succeed. Successful dice can be moved to ANY component which hasn’t been rolled yet.
  • SHOULDER MOUNT: This component isn’t rolled on its own; it’s attached to any ranged weapon. It works as the weapon in the hand would, but because it’s less accurate… both the weapon and mount die must roll successfully to fire.
  • CLOCKWORK REPAIRMEN: If successful, you may upshift every steam die which rolled a success.

Seconds. There are several different options for seconds, each having different proportions of die faces. They always succeed, in that they always do something, even if it’s not something you want. A few more options for what they can do would be keen as well.

  • Repair: Upshift any one steam die.
  • Stoke the boiler: Gain two white steam dice and add them to any component (you must discard them at the end of this round).
  • Co-pilot: Re-roll any one component roll this round.
  • Tea: You feel refreshed and alert: +5 to your initiative roll this round.

You May Be Eaten By a Grue

This is a last-second entry into the Squishy Challenge which ends today and I discovered, ah, last night. It’s a card game with only ten cards, and is not even slightly playtested. It’s about not getting eaten.

You May Be Eaten By a Grue is a game for five players (with options for four or six players at the end of these rules) and requires ten cards with identical backs.

On the front, five cards read “Darkness,” one reads “Grue,” one reads “Traitor,” one reads “Shield,” one reads “Sword,” and one reads “Lantern.”

Setup: Make a pile of “Darkness” cards, and add the “Grue” card to the pile. Shuffle it and deal it out to each player. The Grue player immediately turns his card face up and reveals it: he is the Grue, and he is likely to eat someone. The remaining players are human adventurers, wandering around in the Grue’s caverns in search of treasure. He takes the remaining cards (one “Sword,” one “Shield”, one “Lantern,” and one “Traitor”) and deals them out to the remaining players, one to each. Whomever is dealt the Traitor card is the secret traitor among the adventurers… he’s working with the Grue to a nefarious end. The cards which the Grue deals are kept secret from the other players, with the exception of the Lanterns; at any time a player may (but does not need to) reveal her Lantern card.

At this point, each player except the Grue has a hand of two cards. The Grue has one card in front of him, which should be flipped face down to indicate that he is Frightened.

Play: There are two teams: the Grue and the Traitor, and the Adventurers. The Adventurers’ goal is to slay the Grue (at which point the cowardly Traitor will give up), and the Grue and the Traitor’s goal is to slay all two Adventurers (at which point the remaining, outnumbered hero will give up).

Play starts with the player to the left of the Grue, and moves clockwise.

On the Grue’s turn, he may do one of two things: if his card is face down, he may flip it face up to the Ready position. If it is face up, he may either take no action or attack one player.
To attack, select any one player. If that player reveals a Lantern, the Grue is frightened of the light; the attack fails and the Grue card is flipped face down. If the player reveals a Shield, the Grue is fended off, the attack simply fails. If the player reveals a Shield AND a Sword, then the Grue is slain. If the player reveals the Traitor card, then the Grue stops the attack at the last second… this reveals who the Traitor is to everyone, but does save her life. If the player doesn’t reveal one of these cards, then the attack is successful and the player is dead; she should set her cards on the table face down.

On a players’ turn, she may trade cards with any other player, according to the following rules:

1) The Traitor cannot trade that card under any circumstances.
2) Whomever wants to trade may proffer a card, face down, to any other player. If that player accepts, she must give the active player a card from her hand BEFORE she picks up offered card. The active player cannot change her mind midway through.

2a) If a player is offered a card for trade, but doesn’t want it, she should gently slide it back to the offering player WITHOUT looking at it.

2b) On each turn a player may only attempt one trade, whether it is accepted or not.

3) Players can only ever have two cards in hand.
4) The Grue will attack whomever it hears, so players may not talk, NOT EVEN to declare what they’re offering or willing to trade for. The only exception is the player with the Lantern; if she reveals that she has the Lantern, she may speak freely (but other characters cannot respond).
4a) Extensive non-verbal communication is also disallowed. No nodding or shaking of heads, folks.

The player may, alternately pass her turn.

The player with the Lantern has two extra options: She may investigate a corpse or force a trade. To investigate a corpse, she draws one card from any player who was slain by the Grue, then returns one card to the corpse. It may be the same card or her other card–it cannot be the Lantern.

To force a trade, the player with the Lantern hands it, face up, to another player. That player returns a card, also face up, for all to see. The player cannot refuse this trade… not even the Traitor would refuse the Lantern in these dark caves.

Play continues until one side has won.

(Optional four-player rules: Before dealing out items, the Grue player takes the Darkness cards form the others. He then deals two cards to each player, one item and one Darkness OR Traitor card.)

(Optional six-player rules: use five Darkness cards. The Grue deals the other cards normally; one player will only have a single card. This player will be the Wizard, and he only ever holds one card. He counts as an Adventurer, but when attacked he must reveal his card; if it’s Darkness, he can cast a fireball, which acts as a Lantern, frightening the Grue. If he has anything else, EVEN THE LANTERN, he fumbles in panic, dropping it and getting killed.)

GMotW: Candy Box and… hidden information


There is no instruction manual for Candy Box. There is just Candy Box. If you haven’t been there yet, do go, poke around for a minute, investigate all the options at your disposal, and then consider the Game Mechanic of the Week, which I am pulling from the FAQ:

“The sorceress, since she is a sorceress, can only work on magic swords. This is why you have to enchant your sword before being able to buy this spell!”

Now. Is the game mechanic I’m interested in the fact that there’s a certain linkage between magic elements, and that enchanted swords may only be worked on by enchantresses, and vice versa? Or is it the fact that there is a sword, a sorceress, and a spell, NONE of which you know about if, like I suggested, you only poked about for a few minutes?

I mean, did you meet the Candy Merchant yet? Did you get the special deal on lollipops? Listen. Candy Box gets weird, and quick. Point is, however, it’s also a game which doesn’t let on what it actually is, AT ALL.

And that’s really, really interesting. Lots of games are mechanically forced (for a given value of forced) to give away secrets early… TVTropes has a word for this: Interface Spoiler. If you have a sword slot, and it has an “Enchantment” value, then you can, as a player, reasonably assume that wherever you start off in the game world, you will ultimately end up in a position of owning an enchanted sword.

Games can hide the plot easily enough, but it’s a lot harder to hide what you can do… if you’re playing on a console, you will note early on if the X button has no use whatsoever, and be, perhaps, less-than-surprised when it turns out that that’s the one that activates the Magic you encounter in act II.

Obviously there are ways to maintain that level of surprise, but nothing quite as obvious (and effective) as simply not letting the player be aware that there is a surprise coming at all, by having the mechanical interaction completely secret until it comes to pass. Now, this needs a controller figure, be it the computer or, in the case of a tabletop, a GM figure who is there to let you know that, no, there’s magic now.

What I like about Candy Box for this, and this is a bit of a spoiler if you haven’t played for a while now, is that the ability to go on quests and use the sword is suddenly present where before, it wasn’t even noticeable by its absence. The game didn’t feel as if something was missing before (though it was, to be sure, extremely simplistic, sort of a “My First Game” introduction to coding assignment). It’s not re-using old rules in a new way, it’s just suddenly deciding to be DIFFERENT. It goes beyond merely not allowing the game to be spoiled by its interface, and into actively altering what the player thought the game WAS.

Imagine an RPG that begins with players sitting around a table, rolling dice and telling stories, and suddenly there’s a wrinkle in the plot, magic exists and also hand in your character sheets, we’re doing a diceless LARP now. It’s an utter change in what was expected, demands a complete new understanding of what’s going on. There’s no going back. Whether that’s welcome or not, who can say?

Candy Box is weird. That’s true enough, but it’s also brilliant, and it keeps throwing out surprises, just when you think you know what’s going on it turns into something entirely new. Neat. Friggin’ neat.