Category Archives: oddities

Going first rules in ROME: CITY OF MARBLE

Note: Cover art not final. Stay tuned for updates!
Note: Cover art not final. Stay tuned for updates!

Now that ROME: CITY OF MARBLE has been announced by R&R Games, I can start talking about it a bit. Over the next few months I’ll post more about the game but for now, I’ll begin at the beginning: start player rules.

I love when games have humorous start player rules, especially when they’re evocative of the game’s theme. Some of the more memorable examples include:


“Decide who goes first by rolling the dice and arguing about the results and the meaning of this sentence and whether the fact that a word seems to be missing any effect.”




“The player who was most recently sick goes first.”




“The player who has had the worst day goes first”




I wanted a thematic start player rule for ROME: CITY OF MARBLE that would make people smile and break the ice, and maybe establish a little lighthearted rivalry to get players in the right frame of mind. To that end, I didn’t have to look much further than the foundation myths of Ancient Rome.

As legend has it, Rome was founded by the twin brothers Remus and Romulus who had been set adrift on the Tiber river to die, were saved by a series of miraculous interventions, and were famously found and suckled by a she-wolf.

So, there I had it! The first citizens of Rome had been raised by a wolf, and the first player in ROME: CITY OF MARBLE would be the player “most likely to have been raised by wolves.” That ought to elicit chuckles (or groans).

I had a little fun with this rule this morning, with game designer and graphic designer extraordinaire, Adam McIver, who has created a tumblr of fun and silly start player rules called F1rst Player. Here’s his take on the ROME: CITY OF MARBLE first player rule:

What is your favorite Start Player rule?


‘Let the Snorter Be Covered in Soot’: Ancient Board Game Inscriptions

‘to hunt, to bath, to play, to laugh — This is to live!’

Insightful article on the what the peripheral writings on ancient game boards can tell us about the people who played with them.

What will future generations learn from the games in your collection? Do you embellish your games or will they pass into history with no trace of their owners? Will Legacy-style games prove to be the greatest future window into the lives of board gamers of today?

I’ve got a game set in Ancient Rome coming out at Essen this year. I’m going to see if we can add some fun “inscriptions” to the game board artwork as a playful call back to these historical game players.

Be sure to click through and read the full article:

History From Below

☩ μὴ θεόμαχος νήων. ☩

☩ ἀσβολόθη ὁ ῥονχάζων. ☩

Let the snorter / be covered in soot!

[MAMA X, 330=PH 269278]

Games of chance are never a silent endeavor; however, Romans found it rather uncouth to snort when Fortune was not on your side. A civil person kept their nose silent. There is a strong auditory component to board and card games even today (think about your own favorite cuss words or perhaps a nicely placed ‘yo mama’ joke), just as there was in antiquity. An inscription from late antique Phrygia (4th-5th c. CE) in fact gives us some idea of the insults hurled in the late ancient world. On the edges of a game board adorned with crosses, no less, we have the insult: ‘μὴ θεόμαχος νήων’ (for ναίων), ἀσβολόθη (should be ἠσβολώθη) ὁ ῥονχάζων–essentially, let the snorter go straight to hell. Clearly the crosses were there for protection and luck, and not as a show…

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I love games and history.

I love games and history, and I love learning history through the medium of games.

That’s why I’m enchanted with Fujian Trader, a game about Chinese merchant trading families in the 17th Century. It was inspired by co-designer Robert Batchelor’s own discovery of the Selden Map, a cartographic masterpiece from the early 17th Century.

From the Oxford Digital Library’s Treasures of the Bodleian:

Dating from the late Ming period, it shows China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Southeast Asia and part of India. The map shows shipping routes with compass bearings from the port of Quanzhou across the entire region. A panel of text on the left of the map near Calicut, its western extremity, gives directions of the routes to Aden, Oman, and the Strait of Hormuz. This is the earliest Chinese map not only to show shipping routes, but also to depict China as part of a greater East and Southeast Asia, and not the centre of the known world.

Here’s an excerpt from the Fujian Trader Kickstarter page:

Fujian Trader is a gateway strategy game based on a recently re-discovered 17th century trading map of East Asia uncovered in the archives of Oxford University’s library. The map, which is the oldest Chinese maritime merchant map still in existence, is currently touring East Asia, and is now considered one of Oxford’s greatest treasures. The map shows the routes used by Chinese traders across East Asia, and as a player you get to travel these routes once again. Fujian Trader’s co-designer Robert Batchelor, a professor of British History, is credited with finding the map and bringing it to the attention of geographers, historians and the greater public. Batchelor is on a mission – “I want to make the map and its rich history accessible and intriguing to a larger audience. I believe we can do this with Fujian Trader by getting players to learn about the map and experience its’ meaning through play.”

Learning history through play!

The campaign creators have put their money where their mouth is with a nominal $10 reward geared toward teachers, which includes a pdf download of their lesson plan for Fujian Trader, covering the history of the Selden Map and its impact on both Asia and Europe, and a stretch goal that would provide 100 free copies of the game and their East Asian geography and history lesson plan for middle schools.

That’s a strong commitment to education and learning through games.

If you like good and accurate historical games like I do, please take a few minutes to check out the Fujian Trader Kickstarter campaign. From what I’ve been able to glean from their game play videos and updates, Sari Gilbert and Robert Batchelor have designed a game worth backing.


FWIW, I have no vested interest in this game and I don’t know the creators. I’m simply eager to play this fascinating game and, in order for me to do so, their campaign must succeed!

Want to learn more about the Selden Map?

Read the articles from the Wall Street Journal or The Economist. You can also find out more at Oxford University’s site.

a cool coin-cidence


This is an image of a “remarkably rare” gold coin from very short reign of the Roman Emperor Otho, who ruled for only three months in the year 69.

It is part of a collection of  Ancient Roman and Greek coins recently re-discovered in the Library of the University at Buffalo.

As my dear readers already know, I’m putting the finishing touches on a game called LXIX: The Year of Four Emperors. For those of you who don’t know, LXIX is 69 in Roman numerals. Otho is one of the titular Four Emperors in my game!

It gives me a real thrill to see this tiny piece of history surface while I’m working on a game about the very period in which it was minted. Just imagine! A Roman general seizes the throne in one of Rome’s most turbulent years, but only manages to hold onto power for three months before sacrificing his own life to save Rome from a terrible civil war.

Yet this tiny coin, minted in the brief time Otho ruled as emperor, survived for more than nineteen centuries to end up tucked away in a case, deep in the archives of a library in Buffalo, New York, hidden away and forgotten until a curious assistant professor of classics chased down a rumor and brought it to light. Wow!

Just seeing his noble face peering out from the centuries gives me chills.

board games are a universal language

The board game is a sort of universal language, recognizably familiar, bearing implications of play and interaction. Though we don’t always know the rules, we are often able to infer a great deal simply from the board.

This stone game board is nearly 5000 years old. It was found near Arad, Israel, and dates to the Early Bronze Age, 3000–2650 BCE. It was found with no rule book, yet we can still make a pretty good guess as to how it was played.

Designer Joe Kowalski plays on this idea with his Impossible Games, featured recently on BoingBoing, crafting a series of boards games that tell stories.

Joe says:

Last month I was asked to participate in an art show. I was told was that I’d be receiving some objects, and I was to craft a response to them using whatever medium I wanted. A week later, I received a package. It contained a cryptic telegram from the 1960s, a disc with an atom icon carved into it, and a metal ruler that measured days rather than distance.

I pondered these objects for a while. Each of them seemed to be designed to be part of a larger story. The disc in particular reminded me of a piece from a board game. And I started thinking of board games, and how the boards themselves are these weird, linear story maps. Presented without the accompanying rules or pieces, the viewer must try to infer what the game wants from those that play it.

Most games have pretty clear goals, pretty simple stories. Not these ones. They’re as much a mystery as the objects that inspired them, but they have their own stories.

Here’s the description I wrote for the gallery:

Impossible Games

Here are four unplayable board games. They are unplayable because aside from being mounted to a wall, they appear to be missing important pieces.

Closer examination reveals unusual, sometimes masochistic instructions.

These games tell stories using the language of board games. Each story is told both by what is present and what is not. Good luck.

What’s in the box?

What stories do you read in these mysterious game boards?