The art of mixing games

PICTURE ME AS A TEENAGER AT STRATEGICON. Before I started working at gaming cons I used to go to as an attendee with a HUGE stack of games.

I would pick a central table in the Open Gaming room, pile my games up to a ludicrous height, and sit there waiting for looky-loos.

When a curious gamer stopped by I’d say, “Wanna play a game?”

When they started looking at the stack, I’d say, “Oh, not one of these games. Two of these games. Pick any two and I will combine them into a playable, never-before-seen NEW game.” Then I’d assure them that I didn’t have combinations in mind and that these were random games I picked to bring that day.

It’s been an itch I’ve always needed to scratch, making new things out of other things. Which is not to say that games, as they are designed and intended, aren’t great on their own. Many of them are! But there are also so VERY MANY games that are not quite ready for prime time. And yet there they are… begging to be improved.

My approach to combining games is to take two games and — before I even acknowledge the insanity of the random combo — reciting the mantra “There’s a game inside of everything.”

  • Inside the meeting point between two games — that congruent point where the two of them clearly share a common idea of theme.
  • Inside the spirit of one game and the form of another — where one game becomes the feeling and the goal and the other game becomes the format or the arena of the new game.
  • Or even inside a mundane daily activity combined with a game’s components — like cooking while standing on a Twister mat in the kitchen.
  • Or perhaps just a one-of-a-kind, lightning-in-a-bottle moment where you find yourself itching to do one game while in the middle of another.

The goal of this website is, among other things:

To discover the game inside of anything. To dig into what makes us struggle to win when there is no Victory Track. To delight in whimsy when confronting the mundane. To gamify, heighten, find the nugget of truth, and codify the rules of engagement for any moment of life. And to bring together like-minded jokers in the pursuit of adventure.

Back to that fateful day at Strategicon ’90 where one of the first requests I ever got was Wiz-War plus Risk, which is insane… Impossible, one might think. But in the words of William Shatner, “I think I could do it!”

And we tried it and it was playable! (the rules are somewhere else on this site)

Truth be told we played it for almost an hour until, I think, the Red Wizard holed himself up in Madagascar with three Magic Stones, a Sudden Death, Amplify and half a dozen number cards.

And there’s a lesson somewhere in that. It’s probably: “Don’t dare me to combine two games unless you are prepared to sit down and play the monstrosity for an hour.” But it could just as easily be: “There’s a game inside anything.”

And to combine games.

Don’t make me prove it unless you’ve got an hour to kill!

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