Small World

I gave my sister a copy of Small World for Christmas. For those who are not aware, I am pretty serious about my board games. If you are interested in game design, as I am, there’s often a lot more meat in a board game than in a computer game. So yeah. I guess you could call this “research”.

Premise of the game:

Someone took the “Rise and Fall” Civ 4 mod and made it a board game. In “Rise and Fall”, you control a civ during it’s golden age, then you cycle to controlling a new one. You often end up sacking the civs you have built up in the past.

So the real genius in this game is threefold:

First, the civilizations you play each game are randomly generated from a stack of “adjective” tiles and a stack of “race” tiles. Like so:

The adjectives and races each have their own special powers, so when you combine them, you get a ton of replayability. It’s like Cosmic Encounter when you play with more than one alien power at a time.

Second, these adj/race combos are sorted in a priority order, so that each player effectively “bids” on the combo that they want. To skip over a combo in the order, you need to place 1 VP on it. Unloved combos accumulate VPs until someone snatches it up.

Third, unlike “Rise and Fall”, the player is in control of when to put their race into decline and pick up a new one. Picking up a new race is nice, because new races come with a vital stack of tokens, which allows you to do more on your turn. Old races tire and eventually run out of tokens, but you score points for every territory they hold. Choosing when to throw in the towel with your current race is often a difficult decision.

In any case, Small World is fun, and if you like to play board games you should pick up a copy. It’s the best new game I’ve played since Dominion.

Choose Your Own Adventure: Greatest Achievement in the Genre

You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike…

Remember these? Recently they have been reprinted. I saw a bunch in a bookstore two months ago.


I wrote this year’s annual Christmas letter in the format of a CYOA book (actually more like a printed copy of Colossal Cave). After reading it, my friend Doug (of the CPH Gaming Collective) pointed me towards a *great* article on the narrative structure of the CYOA books.

The conclusion of the article discusses one very interesting CYOA ending in a specific book – Inside UFO 54-40. The winning ending is unique in that it is disconnected from the narrative graph. There is no series of choices you can make to get to that ending. You can only “win” by “cheating”.

In the story, your concord flight is interrupted when you are beamed aboard a nearby spacecraft trolling the universe for intelligent life. Once aboard you discover your new captors, the U-TY, are interested in keeping you around only to the extent that you can help them find Ultima, the ‘planet of paradise’. The planet’s location is cloaked in mystery and you are only told that it’s a place that cannot be reached ‘by making a choice or following directions’. However this is all foreshadowing for when the reader finally becomes frustrated in the apparently impossible quest and begins flipping through the book hunting for that ending. In fact not choosing is the only way to reach Ultima.

This ending was not just an easter egg for the obsessive reader who didn’t mind skimming every page looking for telltale words. Instead it’s hard to miss in even a casual riffling. A two-page illustration showing what could only be paradise (or perhaps a theme park) leaps out as the only spread in the book without any text. Flipping to the page before brings you to 101, where you discover that your curiosity has been rewarded. You have found the planet, not by following the constraints of the system, but by going outside of them – a fitting moral to the story and an encouraging reminder that any game should be a starting point for the imagination, not the end.

This is a beautiful gem. By far the most interesting ending in any CYOA book, it is significant exactly because it recants the basis of the whole medium! Free will triumphs over destiny. And yet, at the same time, you are still choosing your own adventure. This is, in my opinion, the greatest achievement in the genre.

It’s unusual too – for one of the most fascinating example of an element of a medium to be so deliciously self-annihilating. I can’t really think of another case where it happens.

Demons Begone!

Just won a 16 player online mafia game as the Demon, proving that when it comes to lies, deceit, and treachery, I’m your man!

Mafia is an interesting game because it is all about tricking likely facts from a chaotic morass of information. Maybe it’s possible to play purely by “reading” people’s speech and mannerisms. However, all the best players I know start with an absolutely terrible (basically random) read of the situation and then are able to slowly refine it over several turns. The ability to remain skeptical, I think, is very valuable in this game.

Since we were playing with so many people this time, Doug introduced a secret “minigame” of 4 people who appeared in town on the beginning of the 3rd day. By and large I think this was a successful addition. People feel much more involved when they are 1 in 4 vs. 1 in 13.

– – –

Salem Witch Hunt Mafia!
“She’s a witch! Burn her!” – OR – “The devil made me do it!”
Game designed by John Shedletsky & Douglas Wilson



Historical info:

The year is 1692. The place is Salem Town, an important New World seaport in the great colony of Massachusetts. King William and Mary have just ascended to the throne, and despite continued clashes with the Natives, economic prospects are strong. Many of you are second or third generation Puritan colonists. Others have arrived from England, hoping to carry out God’s will in a new land. Others still are here to start a new life.

But in the shadows of colonial Massachusetts, something more sinister is lurking. Some of you, twisted by the Devil or simply intoxicated by the lure of the dark arts, have turned to witchcraft. Increasingly victimized by your cruel magic, the god-fearing citizens of Salem Town have been gripped by fear and hysteria. Worse yet, the chaos has spawned an even darker force – a Demon itself, capable of manipulating innocent souls.

As servants of His will, it is up to you, the citizens, to defend the sanctity of the town. Lynch the witches and exorcise the Demon. The only justice is divine retribution in the name of the Lord Himself!

Online Mafia

For those of you who have never played online Mafia, it works like this: each “day” is an actual day. The game is played over the course of a week via this forum. Players post whenever they feel like over the course of the day. Players are expected to post at least a few times per day, but you don’t have to devote your entire life to the game or anything!

Each day will consist of a 5.5 hour period (10am to 3:30pm California time, or 7pm to 12:30am Denmark time). The last half-hour is the official voting period. In the case of a tie, a special rule system will be used to automatically dictate who is actually lynched (see below).

The results are announced at the end of the day, and then players who take night actions communicate their decisions (in their own special sub-forum) before 9am PST (or 6pm Europe time) the next day. The Mafia and dead will each be given their own discussion forums.

Note that online mafia allows for a number of key new features. First, players have anonymous identities. Second, one player can control multiple people, or one person can be controlled by multiple players!

The Basics

After a lovely muse-inspired day-hike on Angel Island, many hours of heated debate, and numerous revisions, we’ve arrived at what we believe to be a novel set of rules guaranteed to entertain even the most jaded Mafia connoisseur!
13 players
3 Witches (Mafia)
1 Demon
9 Townspeople (Citizens)

Win Scenarios


Citizens win. All witches and Demon dead. In very rare cases I may end the game early if it’s clear that the Demon can no longer win.
Mafia wins. Demon is gone and there are enough witches to guarantee a win (this is usually when the Mafia reaches 50% of the total population, but there are some edge cases in which such a game is still winnable for the citizens)
Demon wins. No longer any possible way to corner or kill the Demon.
Extra rule: if there have been no deaths or kills for three days, the Demon wins. Or, if the Demon has already been killed, the Citizens win.

The Demon

Consider for a moment, if you will, how awesome a game is if “the devil made me do it!” becomes a viable defense!

The Demon is a third-party role whose sole aim is survival. If the game ends with the Demon still in play, everyone else loses! Unlike all other players, the Demon is incorporeal. That is, they don’t have their own avatar. Every night the Demon possesses a player – during the next day the Demon gets forum access to post as that player, while the possessed victim is denied access to post.

The Demon does not find out the true role of their target. As such, the Demon cannot use the power of that player (e.g. can’t call a Trial-By-Fire) during the day. However, all players can use their special night power even if they were possessed the previous day or will be possessed the following day (the Demon spends its night roaming the earth in search of a new victim. But an exorcism still works because there are traces of the Demon in the recently possessed body).

The first day starts with no Demon possession (Demon watches, but can’t post).
Every night, the Demon chooses two targets to possess – a first choice, and a backup choice. The Demon cannot possess the same player twice in a row (although they can return to the target later). There are a number of other players who cannot be possessed: the Pious Soul, any player who is killed that same night, and any player who is blessed by the Priest that same night. Note that if a player is saved by the Doctor, they are still a valid possession target. If both of the Demon’s choices are resistant to possession, the Demon is cornered as is expunged (dies).

The Demon can also be expunged (die) in three other ways. First, the Exorcist can expunge the Demon during the night (a one time attempt). Second, the Demon is expunged if they try to possess a Hag who uses the Poison Mind Curse. Third, if a possessed player is put to a Trial-By-Fire, the Demon is expunged.
If the Demon is ever expunged (killed), all players are informed.



Like the traditional Doctor, saves one person at night. Can self-heal.


Chooses one player at night to bless. The blessed person cannot be possessed by the Demon for the next day. Cannot self-bless.

Pious Soul


Cannot be possessed by the Demon


Is told that they are the Pious Soul, but is really not


Once per game, can ask during the night for a list of certain info:
• Is the Hag alive? What curses do they have left?
• Is the Clone alive?
• How many Witches (Mafia) are left?
Note that the Astrologer is given this information privately.


Once during the game, can call a Trial-By-Fire. Upon calling the trial (which the moderator will acknowledge to make official), the Zealot may give the accused player time to defend themselves. The Zealot can decide to let the player go, or light the match. But the Zealot must light the match before the official voting half-hour begins. If the match is lit, the accused player dies no matter what. The public then finds out if the player was a citizen or &quo
t;evil” (either Mafia or Demon). If the person was possessed by the Demon, the Demon is expunged (dies). Note that if the Zealot calls the trial, but then lets the accused player go, they cannot call another trial.

Escape Artist

If lynched or burned in a Trial-By-Fire, vanishes from play (does not get to read the forums), then gets to come back the day after next (assuming the game is still going). This is true even if the Escape Artist was possessed by the Demon. All players are informed after lynching that the Escape Artist escaped.


One time, during the night, can target one player. If that player was possessed the previous day, the Demon is expunged (dies). Note that the exorcism is private. Only the exorcist knows they used the action (unless they successfully catch the Demon).
One regular (vanilla) citizen



Wields four curses (can use each once per game, and only one per night):
• Self-esteem issues – Stops Doctor from a self-save during that night
• Slow reflexes – Block escape artist power for one turn
• Cripple – Targeted player loses all special powers relating to their role for the rest of the game
• Poison Mind – Can only target self. Hag cannot vote next round. But if the Demon tries to possess the Hag, the Demon is expunged (dies).


Controls two avatars (them and the Clone). If the Warlock dies, the Clone dies too.


Second avatar for the Warlock. If the Clone dies, the Warlock survives. Note that the Clone’s vote does not count!
One regular (vanilla) witch
Voting & Tie-Breaking
There is no official nomination process. People declare their official votes during the day, and can change these votes up until the very end of the day. The official “voting half-hour” at the end of the day is only relevant to the Zealot’s Trial-By-Fire (see above).

Ties are broken automatically based on which side is the “most pious.” The list below represents the hierarchy of townspeople and how pious they are. To figure out which side is most pious, the moderator will use the most pious townsperson who is one of the tied voting groups.

1. Pious Soul
2. Priest
3. Exorcist
4. Zealot
5. Doctor
6. Astrologer
7. Vanilla Citizen
8. Escape Artist
9. Sinner

Note that because of the Clone (whose vote does not count) and the Hag’s Poison Mind curse, sometimes a vote will be tied even if it doesn’t appear as such.