Overwhelming Gearwheels

2019-03-04 Emergency Game Kit Rulebook

Rules to the 75 tabletop games I take with me everywhere

The Emergency Game Kit Rulebook page is a table of contents for the rulebook I've assembled for my Emergency Game Kit. The rightmost column of the table contains links that go as directly as possible to printable versions of the rules in my anthology. In a few cases, I can't link to them; this is usually explained.

The printable rules are usually PDFs, but sometimes in the form of web pages, Word docs, etc. If rules are not in PDF form, I print them to PDF myself, and then I gather the rules PDFs into a directory in alphabetical order, using a Linux program called PDFtk to assemble them into one large ebook that I can carry with me on my ereader. I encourage you to do the same. I wish I could provide you with the latest version of my rules ebook, but remixing and redistributing the rules in that way would infringe multiple copyrights.

When I print out rules on paper for my own use, I keep them in a flexible three-ring binder inside my emergency game kit. I don't bother to print the whole rulebook at once, even though I could thanks to my big PDF ebook, but instead insert and remove individual pages as needed. This way, I can also print the longer rulesets four-up and adjust other print jobs as necessary.

I hope you enjoy this rulebook. It took a few months of effort just to gather decent, printable versions of the rules to my favorite games (and games that promise to be fun), not to mention the time put into reading and learning them.

Share and Enjoy!

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2019-02-19 War Plan Tangerine - Call for players

I'm running a play-by-wiki matrix game starting on 1 March 2019 with the satirical PAXsims scenario War Plan Tangerine:

From the ever-prolific Tim Price comes yet another matrix game, War Plan Tangerine. In this, the government of the UK must prepare for the impending state visit of the rather unpopular President of the Generic Senior Ally.

This is, of course, a COMPLETELY FICTIONAL scenario. Any resemblance between the President of the GSA and any current world leader is ENTIRELY COINCIDENTAL.

If you've never heard of Matrix Games, now's a good time to find out about them!


I'm interested in playing! I am offline for a week each month but would love to play.

Tasshin Michael Fogleman

tasshin. 2019-03-04 22:30 UTC.

Great, Tasshin! I'm looking for six players, and you're the first. Needless to say, we've whooshed right past the March 1 deadline. If you know anyone else who might be interested, please pass on the info.

Ron Hale-Evans. 2019-03-05 00:28 UTC.

2019-02-17 The Esperanto of games, Part I

One game to rule them all


Esperanto is a constructed human language created around 1887 by L.L. Zamenhof. It was designed as a universal second language to promote international peace and cooperation. As an educated person, you might know all this already. You might even speak Esperanto, like me. So when I ask, "What is the Esperanto of games?", you might think I'm asking whether there is a kind of glue or interlanguage that binds games together in a ludic synergy — or something like that.

Not quite. For the purposes of this post, I'm referring to the propaedeutic properties of Esperanto. Propaedeutic knowledge is introductory knowledge that makes it easier to study a skill or discipline. For example, children in music programs are often taught to play the recorder before learning another instrument such as piano because the recorder is relatively easy to learn and manipulate, yet all the same principles of music theory apply to it.

It's well known that Esperanto has a pronounced propaedeutic effect on learning other languages. For example, schoolchildren taught a year of Esperanto followed by three years of French consistently speak better French than if they have merely had four years of French instruction. Similar improvement has been shown even for non-Romance languages such as Russian.

Why would this be?

The preparatory teaching [of Esperanto] prepares students to become aware of the essential characteristics of languages, using the international language Esperanto as a model, a language with a clear and simple structure, almost completely regular and, thanks to its agglutinative character, detachable into combinable morphological elements; this model is easy to assimilate and develops aptitude for the study of other languages.[1]

So when I ask "What is the Esperanto of games?", I'm really asking, "Does there exist a simple, flexible, universal game that could have the same accelerated learning effect for other games that Esperanto does for other languages?" Is there one game you could learn that would immediately give you a strategic advantage in every other game you want to play? If not, what would it take to design one?

Next time, I'll propose a couple of candidate propaedeutic games and talk about someone I knew who used one of them to great strategic advantage. Meanwhile, there's a lot to talk about here, so if this topic interests you, please leave a comment with the Comments link below (and check back for responses).


joyceans ⱅ woke² asks on Twitter whether there are any propaedeutic novels suitable for teaching novel-reading skills.

Although it's not quite a novel, I would suggest Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau as a great introduction to reading literature, reading fiction, or just reading. It's structurally similar to Ulysses — which should please joyceans ⱅ woke² — but much, much shorter.

If Exercises in Style is too difficult, then I recommend 99 Ways to Tell a Story by Matt Madden as an even simpler homage to Exercises in Style, in comic book form.

By the way, I'm responding on my blog rather than Twitter because of Open Web considerations I discussed earlier.

Ron Hale-Evans. 2019-02-18 19:48 UTC.

2019-02-09 Announcing the Matrix Games Wiki

Announcing the Matrix Games Wiki, meant to be a central clearinghouse for information about matrix games.

Matrix games were invented by Chris Engle and live in the space between boardgames and roleplaying games. They are a simple kind of game engine that enables you to play through scenarios not easily simulated by other games. The power and flexibility of Matrix Games come from how turns are resolved. Rather than try to make up rules for every instance, players make arguments for what they want to happen next in the game. Another player sets a "to happen" threshold for each argument, and a die roll later, you know which actions became facts in the game world and which didn’t happen at all. It might sound too simple (or too complicated) to work, but it does.

Matrix Games are a low-tech way to game events that make supercomputers twitch. As Neal Durando says in The Matrix Games Handbook,

Traditional RPG rules support physical confrontation among individuals. The argument mechanism of Matrix Games applies whether the conflict is physical, social, or intellectual. More interestingly, it is also applies regardless of the scale... You might resolve a boxing match using the same mechanism as an intercontinental war.

Matrix games have been used for murder mysteries, science fiction, horror games, literary games, wargames, and political campaigns. They are especially good for solo games. There are even serious games for education, psychotherapy, and planning.

On the Matrix Games Wiki, as on other wikis, such as Wikipedia, you can add and edit pages yourself, including new matrix game rules, links to matrix game resources, and play-by-wiki matrix games.

Looking forward to seeing you there!


You should add a link to the new wiki...

TrevorLDavis. 2019-02-11 18:32 UTC.

Done. Thanks! D'oh!

Ron Hale-Evans. 2019-02-11 21:05 UTC.

2019-02-06 Operation Wifebeater

Operation Wifebeater: Scrabble for Supremacy, Part I

I've never been able to beat my wife Marty, but I'd love to. At Scrabble! Jesus, what do you take me for?

Marty enjoys playing Scrabble with me, and not just because she always wins. It's one of our Things. I gave her a year's worth of monthly Scrabble games with me for her birthday last year, and I still haven't caught up. That's one reason I decided to make Scrabble one of my 10×10 games this year.

Date/time: 20 January 2019, 15:45-18:15
Location: Home (Kent, WA)
Players: Marty and Ron Hale-Evans
Games played: Scrabble
Game number: 1 of 10 (see ScoreBoard)
Winner: Marty

We draw tiles to see who goes first. I draw 'L'. Marty draws 'A'. I immediately see how this is going to go. Her first word is FLYER, for 30 points. I, on the other hand, am beset throughout the game with either low-scoring words (LEARN, 5 points) or high-scoring opportunities but nowhere to put them (early case in point: ROUX).

Marty is keeping score with her vintage tile rack, which has little pegs and displays numbers in base 20 or something. Her ancient Mayan scoreboard is fun for her, but makes it hard to read, especially upside-down. The accompanying vintage board has ridges that hold the tiles in place, so our game is not disrupted when our presumptuous Pomeranian Humphrey, driven mad by lust for off-brand cheetos, bounds onto the rotating board in mid-game. My concentration, however, is frequently disrupted by my designated role of pom wrangler.

Marty mocks the delicate way I lay down my Scrabble tiles, then tells me she actually enjoys it. (Good, because you're stuck with it.)

Marty bingoes at one point with GOONIER, a word that applies poignantly to the bogus words I am nervously juggling. I waste time and gumption considering NITELIFE and NAILUSE (in conjunction with a hammer, it's what sets us apart from the animals). Halfway, I finally break into a legit triple-digit score with SLUT (double letter score and triple word score for 15 points, woot). I occasionally find myself wishing I were playing Marty at Upwords instead of Scrabble, both for momentary tactical reasons (it would be great to play particular tiles on top of ones that are already there) and because I have actually beat her at that game.

In the end, it's Marty who's the triumphant spousebeater. She scores 373 points to my 201. Marty consoles me by saying I was better at blocking her plays this time. She also recommends I learn my two-letter words and simply play as much as I can. And so I shall! With her!

At least she didn't double my score again. I resolve to score higher next time and make Marty score lower; we'll see how that works out.


Have you tried adopting the Nigerian short word defensive style of Scrabble play?

TrevorLDavis. 2019-02-07 22:03 UTC.

Trevor! No I have not, in part because I hadn't heard of it and in part because it seems to require memorizing every five-letter word and shorter in the dictionary. But also, is the Nigerian style a myth?

Ron Hale-Evans. 2019-02-07 23:44 UTC.

Not a Scrabble expert but that article seems to say it was an old and well-known (but still valid) strategy. I do imagine you could do quite better with a boost in Scrabble vocabulary (although I don't think it need be so comprehensive to give you a non-zero win probability versus your wife). If you drip in a list of high-marginal-value Scrabble words (say 5-10 a day) into a space-repetition software of your choice (aggressively suspending "leeches" that fail to click to save on overall review time) I'd imagine with only 2 minutes a day or so of review you might be beating your wife in Scrabble in only a couple of years when combined with a solid Scrabble strategy! Probably up your Crossword game as well...

TrevorLDavis. 2019-02-08 18:48 UTC.

That's not how I read the Slate article. To quote the end of the article,

...the importance of shorter words doesn’t represent some sea change blowing in from across the Atlantic. “In general, passing up bingos to make shorter plays is a thing that happens in Scrabble,” Clinchy says. “But it’s very rare, and the authors [of the Journal article] clearly don’t understand the nuances of when and why it happens.” (Two examples of when skipping a bingo does make sense: You’re holding a blank and can score 40 or more points without burning it; late in a game when bingoing is the only way to give your opponent a spot to play that would allow him to win.)

In other words, the winning strategy is to play short words when it's appropriate to play short words and long words when it's appropriate to play long words. Well, who can't agree with that?

Ron Hale-Evans. 2019-02-09 00:40 UTC.

I got from both articles that the Nigerians focus on "defense" moreso then conventional American players and while that such "defense"-oriented-play may not always be the "optimal" strategy such a focus seems good enough to win them some games as "scrappy underdogs" (which you seem to be in the case of Scrabble with your wife). My mental model is college football where teams can find success if they are really good at only small parts of "optimal" play (i.e. Michigan State can win games with a good defense and bad offense, Oklahoma can win games with good offense and bad defense, and Army can win games by just running the ball and not even bother at trying to pass it). I agree that memorizing a bunch of low-frequency words just to be good at a certain game isn't necessarily what I'd want to spend my energy on doing.

TrevorLDavis. 2019-02-09 04:46 UTC.

Well, that's true. I don't really want to spend years grinding at any one game, because there are so many games I like. My late friend John Braley was a Chess master, and could beat almost anyone I knew at any other game that hit the table for most of the time I knew him. He was able to export his Chess strategy to many other games.

I'd like to do something similar, but by playing many games in parallel (see ScoreBoard), rather than just one in a long series. That said, I'm willing to put a certain amount of work into Scrabble specifically, because I play it with Marty. However, my immediate goal is to be on par with her and not to win a world title, so memorizing thousands of words over a period of years with spaced repetition does seem like overkill.

What happens when Michigan State plays Oklahoma?

Ron Hale-Evans. 2019-02-09 06:19 UTC.

Either approach can win but traditionally defense-minded Big Ten teams like Michigan State do comparatively well in the mud/snow (versus sunshine).

TrevorLDavis. 2019-02-09 17:24 UTC.

I suppose in this way, many sports are asymmetrical games like Cosmic Encounter. Every alien power can win, but the outcome depends on which other powers it's facing, and how well the player makes the best of the alien's strong points while minimizing the effect of the alien's weak points.

Ron Hale-Evans. 2019-02-09 21:09 UTC.

2019-02-02 Operation Counter Intelligence

Voyage to the games of an alternate Earth through a matrix of possibilities

Date/Time: 19 January 2019, 18:00-21:45
Location: Home (Kent, WA)
Players: Ron
Games played: Matrix Game (Consensus Fantasy)
Game number: 1 of 10 (see ScoreBoard)
Winner: n/a

One of the 327 or so ideas I like to spread is matrix games. Matrix games were invented by Chris Engle in 1988 and are a little like board games and a lot like roleplaying games — but more flexible and powerful. Matrix games have few rules but rich play. You might think of them as the RPG equivalent of Go in that respect. In short, players don't usually roleplay a particular character, but collaborate in saying how a game world develops. I appreciate matrix games so much, I started the Matrix Games Wiki as a central place to discuss and contribute matrix game material.

Recently, because I had an idea for my book in progress, and as part of my 10x10 game challenge (in this case, to play 10 matrix games in 2019), I spent three hours playing a solo matrix game to develop that idea for my book, Parallel Pastimes, a collection of reviews of imaginary games from a parallel world.

I intended to explore and develop my parallel world of Counter, and specifically Counter's imaginary game with the working title of The Gamer's I Ching. This book/game is modeled on the real-life Solo System (and even in a way the Matrix Game), but rather than being an artificial opponent or gamemaster, it's a player's advisor of a kind called an oracle. On Counter, players consult oracles during multiplayer game play and often take their advice on the game situation and the next move.


I'd like to give a complete report of my expedition to Counter, but I must keep some of it to myself while I continue to work on my book, so what follows is more summary or condensation than "actual play". Meanwhile, I'll just say that this entire scenario was developed on the fly with the help of the Matrix Game. It's a worthwhile writer's tool and also fun to use. Of course it's fun — it's a game.

GigaMesh gossip had it that the game that famous game critic Ludic Flâneur was about to playtest was an improved oracle designed by AI. He did not himself know where the improvements lay. He took the book to a secret game night where all the players of the evening's board game were running (or being run by?) other oracles.

Although LF went to the party to playtest his oracle-on-loan, he found himself far more intrigued by the game on which he was testing it. This was Little Lands of Opportunity, a financial game about crowdfunding competing micronations. He found it so intriguing that (just this once?) he lost all his critical integrity and became an unreliable narrator and Little Lands forever fan.

The Ludic Flâneur's review of the oracle became instead a review of Little Lands of Opportunity, about which there was nothing objectively special as a game in Counter's game-rich environment. But why?

All will be explained. Soon, soon... I hope.

Comments? Please leave them with the link at page bottom.

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2019-01-26 Why am I telling you this

Why am I telling you this?

The Open Web, walled gardens, and 327 personal obsessions

Why do I blog about what I blog about? Why does this blog exist?

Primarily because I have a large number of interests and I love to use them to delight the enlightened (and enlighten the benighted). I like to share and discuss ideas with people, and if the ideas are worthwhile, I like to see them spread.

I track my interests in a perpetually growing file called obsessions.txt. Every one of its (currently) 327 lines contains an interest of mine, such as SETI, Sherlock Holmes, Sid Sackson, the Singularity, or solipsism. I wrote a program called ii that randomly combines such interests two at a time and searches for them on the Web. I want to find new mutations of my memes (mine in the sense that they inhabit my brain, not necessarily that I originated them), and I want to delight in the mutations myself.

So that's why I blog. But why do I blog here on this tiny shred of the World Wide Web rather than in the massive walled garden of Facebook, or some other one? The answer lies in a concept called the Open Web, which I support and have seen most succinctly defined by Bryan Behrenshausen of Red Hat:

The “open Web” is the idea that the World Wide Web should remain accessible to as many people as possible. It has both technical and cultural dimensions.

The Open Web has these dimensions; walled gardens do not. The technical dimensions are open standards such as HTTP and HTML. The cultural dimensions, are, I think, expressed elegantly in turn by this Declaration of Internet Freedom from 2011:

We stand for a free and open Internet.

We support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy and the establishment of five basic principles:

Expression: Don't censor the Internet.

Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks.

Openness: Keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create and innovate.

Innovation: Protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission. Don’t block new technologies and don’t punish innovators for their users' actions.

Privacy: Protect privacy and defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used.

I find these Open Web principles admirable. For example, I hardly think I need to elaborate on social media's poor reputation for privacy. Facebook alone is notorious for, if not synonymous with, violating its users' privacy, sometimes with catastrophic results (arguably including the 2016 U.S. presidential election). This little blog, on the other hand, wouldn't steal your privacy, or mine, if it could.

Innovation and all the rest are great virtues, but I think the virtue of openness is what leads me to make most of my posts on the Open Web rather than social media walled gardens.

Even though I probably have a bigger audience now on both Facebook and Twitter than on this little blog, that might not be true in the long run. Writing on the Open Web is so much more discoverable than on Twitter, and especially on Facebook. Search engines can't find you on the latter (can't get over the walls of the garden), and have a hard time of it with Twitter too. Facebook will even throttle your posts within the walled garden so that only a fraction of your audience will see them.

You may have noticed that the Declaration of Internet Freedom link I gave was to the Internet Archive copy of the Declaration of Internet Freedom, which seems to have disappeared from the Web. "HAW! HAW! HAW!" I hear you say (as if you are a hopeless sinner in an old Jack Chick bible comic). "Where's your manifesto now?"

That's the point. Because its writers used open web standards, the Declaration is safe in the planetary memory of the Internet Archive, whereas your yesterday's Facebook post is quick down the memory hole like a meth-addicted rabbit.

I recently wanted to catch up on a friend's Facebook timeline, but I couldn't scroll back any further than a few months before the delay retrieving his posts became too onerous. Either the masters of Facebook are more incompetent than even I suppose, or else the increasing delay is deliberate, like the throttling mentioned earlier. After all, I can use Google Groups to retrieve open-standards-based Usenet articles from at least thousands of people posting all the way back to 1982 in a matter of seconds; surely finding messages from a single person a few months ago shouldn't tax the infrastructure of a walled garden that encloses a third of the population of the world.

In any case, old Facebook messages are almost impossible to retrieve -- but I want to be retrievable for a long time, even if my messages are of no more than historical interest.

If you find the ideas in this post interesting, you can use the Comments link at the bottom of the page to share your ideas with me and whomever else happens across it, perhaps by running their own random searches. For the love of Dog, don't go back to the walled garden where you found the link to this message and comment there instead.


Another benefit of findability is the opportunity to communicate and, hopefully, collaborate with people you don't already know. Aside from the social benefits of meeting new people, evidence points toward enhanced creativity when working with people you don't know well. This is fascinatingly explored in the Hidden Brain podcast found here: https://www.npr.org/2019/01/24/687707404/creative-differences-the-benefits-of-reaching-out-to-people-unlike-ourselves

Marty. 2019-01-26 22:53 UTC.

Right, I just listened to that again, because I was distracted when it was on this morning. It's sort of like the hack Enjoy Good, Clean Memetic Sex from Mind Performance Hacks. You don't want to exchange ideas exclusively with people you know, lest your memetic offspring be sickly and inbred. You want "new blood"!

Ron Hale-Evans. 2019-01-27 01:51 UTC.

What do you think of the metanet, on Bitcoin SV? I feel like permanent uncensored blockchain storage is a more open open web than hoping that things are echoed by archive.org when they go down. With metanet you pay a few cents once to post something and then it's a safe stable permanent link forever.

mungojelly. 2019-01-27 04:26 UTC.

My brain has needed nutrients from your brain that it doesn't get by itself. I have this old person aversion to newness, and a tendency to burrow into the past, including the futurism of the past. There's a reason that steampunk is so popular and fun, as it feeds this need for a kind of silly speculation and extrapolation that is just.... wrong. Fun. That feeds some deep desire that the real world is never got feed.

The anarchic notion that providers and hosters have no responsibility for the content their applications hold and use, that tool manufacturers bear zero responsibility for what is done with their tools, is one of those absolutes, like freedom of speech that shades into gray in the real world around some weird stuff. (Like, say Child porn, which can be evidence of a crime and criminal exploitation as well as a document) Zuckerberg laughed at the idea that he was in any way responsible for the content on his platform, as he took millions from Russia to hack the election with carefully crafted and tested info-poison.

Of course it's the profit motive that weaponizes the platform, that gives it its weird monopolistic power. You can't be brainwashed by an anarchic raft of largely text based communications. You need videos and branding and the echoes of social media. Great New Yorker piece on how the Non-Story (the hat story) is ginned up by twitter trending which is fed by bots, again, many Russian.

The anarchic web, with fake identities based on email addresses, is an illusion of anarchy where bots and tools and paid agents spew poison into every commons. Yelp? Amazon reviews. Social media. If the content has commercial value, it can be exploited, manipulated, and the amount of signal needed to drown out the noise grows every larger.

Smaller communities resting on meat-world, real-time components or built up slowly over time and jealously gaurded by moderators can be wonderful things. In the same way that grocery stores sell real food on one aisle, and monstrous addictive machine food in the other 20. I have had to train myself not to walk down those asiles to reduce my dementia risk by a factor of three. (turns out gum disease is another factor of three I've been working on for years now). I have to know now that FB is the soda and chips aisle, Twitter is the old school boxed pasta and canned vegetables and nestles quick and drink powders, etc. Your blog a curated experience created by a dedicated and incorruptible lensmen like yourself, is the produce aisle.

But is a different kind of walled garden; you're the wall; you weed the garden. If nazis show up and put up flags for genocide, you take them down. You don't have algos that can't tell the nazis from pussy hats, and giant fields of crops so huge only robots can tend them. You don't worry about the knock on effect of taking down swastikas. You're one of a million points of light. Thus far, the million points of light have never been enough to really drive back the darkness. Or maybe the points of lights are the candles carried that do change everything. Though they are also the torches.

Anonymous. 2019-01-27 14:38 UTC.

And now I have to figure out the UI here because the software isn't showing my name. And like a cranky old person learning new UI bugs me

Jay O'Connell. 2019-01-27 14:40 UTC.

Jay, thank you for your thoughtful response. I certainly enjoy being called a dedicated and incorruptible Lensman. However, I have to disagree that this blog is yet another walled garden. I'm not stopping anyone from posting here. You don't need an account on Overwhelming Gearwheels to post on it. There are no passwords. There's no special client necessary. And so on.

It's true that if someone started posting hate speech (or spam) I'd delete it. But I think this makes me more of a gardener than a wall. In the end, this blog is a "curated experience", as you put it: not a wilderness, but a garden, and definitely not a walled one.

Ron Hale-Evans. 2019-01-28 04:32 UTC.

mungojelly, the press release for metanet, from only a month and a half ago, says that metanet is a for-pay "secure alternative to the Internet". Sounds like a walled garden to me.

Gott's principle indicates that metanet, being brand new, is less likely to stick around than the Internet Archive (functional for decades) or the Internet itself (even longer). I'm just not ready to have faith that this brand-new tech is ready to create a "safe stable permanent link forever" for my data. Talk to me in twenty years. Meanwhile, if you'd like to pay to back this blog up on metanet, be my guest.

Finally, you don't need to "[hope] that things are echoed by archive.org when they go down". You can point archive.org directly at a URL you want to archive with the Save Page Now feature and it will be saved immediately.

Ron Hale-Evans. 2019-01-28 04:51 UTC.

(If the author doesn't want it archived or changes their mind) then content can be retroactively-removed-from/never-archived-by the Internet Archive. Content is most preservable if using open standards (i.e. html+css) and non-walled so making a copy is easy, under a license that allows making/sharing copies (i.e. Creative Commons), and compelling enough that people bother to make/share local copies (especially easy if source code of website hosted somewhere like Github although there are plugins to make local copies of non-walled websites).

TrevorLDavis. 2019-01-28 17:49 UTC.

I don't have special insight into Internet Archive policy, but knowing how they feel about preserving information, I'd be willing to bet they don't actually delete data on request, but instead mark it as unreadable.

Ron Hale-Evans. 2019-01-29 02:15 UTC.


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