Unboxed Games Manifesto

Board gamers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your boxes.

We, the founders of the Unboxed Games movement, revolt against boxes — boxes of all sorts and sizes — except the soapbox.

Unboxed games are designer games for the people, toppling the tyranny of the boxed commercial game. With the proliferation of game systems such as the piecepack in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, there is no longer any other excuse for the existence of boxed commercial games than greed. How many hit commercial card games can be played with only a couple of standard decks and a sharpie? We condemn you, Uno. We denounce you, Phase 10. We rebuke you, Lost Cities. We belittle you, “Great” Dalmuti.

Unboxed games are green, ecological — scorning boxes of components. We repudiate the bourgeois “parakeet” gamer who is only interested in a game if it has “nice,” shiny bits. Hundreds of bits in a box times hundreds of boxes on a shelf times tens of thousands of devoted gamers equals hundreds of millions of redundant pieces of four-color parakeet droppings. Boxed games look nice on the shelf but provide little more than bragging rights, consuming unspeakably more natural resources than a simple rule sheet. We say enough. Unboxed games are the Hercules that shall cleanse gaming’s Augean Stables.

Unboxed games are free, merrily robbing the cash boxes of corporate sharks like Hasbro and their pusillanimous remoras. As gamers, we want to play, not pay. As game authors, we want to be played, not paid. Johan Huizinga said in Homo Ludens that games exist in a magic circle. It’s time to cast the moneychangers out of the magic circle. Games must be free — not only free as in free beer, but also free as in free speech: free to travel the world via the Internet and cell phones, free to be scratched in the sand, as free as the ancient air.

Unboxed games are elegant and spontaneous, obsoleting the ten-pound box of rulebooks. You can carry the rules to an unboxed game in your head and play pickup games anywhere with anything, so they’re low tech, but also high tech — the natural home for unboxed rules is the Net as much as the neighborhood pub.

Unboxed games are portable and universal, shredding the boxes that separate Chess sets from Poker sets from Monopoly and the Settlers of Catan. Let your pieces run free. Let the Chess King woo and marry the Queen of Hearts — or the King of Hearts, for that matter. One day you will play Poker with a Chess set, Chess with a Poker set, everything with a computer, and emulate any computer program with a pen and paper.

Unboxed games are tested by the aeons, recalling the relics of our mighty-thewed progenitors from the box in the attic to which they had been relegated. We bow reverently before Saint Sid Sackson and A Gamut of Games, Robert Abbott and Abbott’s Original Card Games, David Parlett and his Original Card Games. Game design has advanced far since these great works were published (and largely because of them). As authors, we can apply what we’ve learned to today’s unboxed games.

Unboxed games are magical, revealing as illusion the boxes of limitation around ordinary things. We have witnessed wonders born of egg cartons and string. We have seen the Multiverse born of pen and paper; we have seen unboxed metagames swallow themselves and evert like the World Snake Ouroboros. Henceforth, the newest games shall be played with the oldest materials.

Unboxed games are good for your imagination, mocking the boxes that lock in the minds of gamers who can’t believe that a poker chip is a pirate ship, or dice are ice floes. Any mentally competent adult can pretend one thing is another. Let A = B. Let this Ace be Beowulf. Let this Queen be Grendel. We call these playlike games: “Play like this penny is a race car.” “OK, now play like it can fly.”

Free our games. Free our culture. Play outside the box.

This piece was originally written for a book called Games Unboxed that was to be an anthology of original games playable with ordinary equipment (pen and paper, dice, a checkers set, etc.). The book was eventually cancelled, and what you read above became an example for the “Manifest Yourself” hack in my book Mindhacker.