Dominus wrote about games played by aliens. He believes (and I agree) that aliens play Go, and something like poker. And he wonders at the paucity of auction games (I should note that they are a bit more common among hobby board games: Reiner Knizia has five, and Dan Luu was just telling me about Fresh Fish, which I’m eager to try).

Before I even go into some other game mechanics, I want to digress a bit about poker.

Everyone knows that poker is pointless unless played for real money. This is because the right thing in poker is to fold most of the time, but folding is boring. The only thing that will convince you to play right is the prospect of losing money. But what if there’s another way? Imagine a game that plays exactly like Texas Hold’em (no-rebuys and tournament-style, meaning that everyone starts with the same amount of chips), but with the following change: when you win a hand, the chips you win get turned into victory points and added to your VP total. You can’t use them as chips again. Now, if you go all-in, you will not play another hand even if you win. But maybe you will win enough VP to wind up the eventual game winner. This game still sucks by modern standards, because it involves player elimination, but I wonder if it could be the basis of a more reasonable game. You could fix the player elimination by giving everyone a few chips at the start of every hand, but then you need some way to end the game. Maybe the first one to 500 points wins?

Ok, end digression. On to some infrequently-used game mechanics.


Some time ago, I invented a game where you try to determine physical quantities. Like, you’re given a box full of weights, and you have to determine how many grams it is, just by hefting it. Or you’re given a rod and asked to figure out how long it is (probably no touching or measuring against your hands allowed). You could do temperature (but only within a narrow range, and it would be tricky to implement), luminous intensity, and time too. My friend Jay suggested absolute pitch, which I hate because I am totally non-musical, but it clearly fits the game.

One of my favorite experiments involves pitch (in some sense): it turns out that the frequency of the tingle of Sichuan peppercorns is 50Hz.

One of the few perception games I know of is played in Ethiopia. A friend of mine went there to design games for girls. She said that the girls never wanted to use randomness in their games. To select a first player or whatever, they would instead hide three stones in one hand and four in another, and ask another player to figure out which hand had more stones. Of course, this is also a deception game.

Short-term memory

Many card games that involve counting use the short-term memory. But I’m imagining something where the memory is explicitly the mechanic. Like Simon, but multiplayer.

Watch a chimp kick our asses at a short-term memory game.

Pain tolerance

Dominus suggests a version of chess where you can make your opponent take a move back by chopping off one of your fingers. This is rather permanent (at least for humans). But what about temporary pain?

In Philip K. Dick’s Eye In The Sky, a character sticks his hand over a cigarette lighter to prove how holy he is.

“Ordeal by fire,” Brady explained, igniting the lighter. A flash of yellow flame glowed, “Show your spirit. Show you’re a man.”

“I’m a man,” Hamilton said angrily, but I”ll be damned if I’m going to stick my thumb into that flame just so you lunatics can have your frat-boy ritualistic initiation. I thought I got out of this when I left college.”

Each technician extended his thumb. Methodically, Brady held the lighter under one thumb after another. No thumb was even slightly singed.

“You’re next,” Brady said sanctimoniously. “Be a man, Hamilton. remember you’re not a wallowing beast.”

This is, of course, not about pain — the technicians really are being protected by God (or, what passes for God in the reality that Hamilton finds himself stuck in). But it gets the idea across: this is a game that people could play, if only we weren’t such wimps.

If you wanted to make a safe version of the cigarette lighter game, you could use the thermal grill illusion. I would actually buy a thermal grill illusion device if someone made a commercial version.

The World Sauna Championships were, I guess, a version of this. One competitor described it as “quite possibly the world’s dumbest sport”. As you can probably predict, someone died and they canceled the event.

Robert Yang made a game about a video of men hurting each other. Competitively? Definitely in some sense. Hard Lads is among the safest-for-work of Yang’s games, but I still would not watch it in any office I have ever worked in. I don’t claim Yang’s game itself is an instance of pain as a game mechanic — but rather that it might portray such a game.


I mostly just wanted an excuse to quote PKD and link to Robert Yang and the Sichuan peppercorn thing.

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