Parlour games for Christmas

Among the gifts I got for Christmas was a copy of the book Parlour Games for Modern Families by Myfanwy Jones and Spiri Tsintziras, which some other relatives and friends also received (apparently Mum bought it after hearing Myfanwy Jones on the radio). Today — with my uncle’s family here — we tried out two or three games from the book.

Among the games we tried was the rotary drawing and captioning game from pages 31-32 (titled Eat Poop You Cat, with some alternative names also acknowledged). Basically, each person draws a small picture near the top of a strip of paper (one strip per player), and writes a caption above it, the sillier the better. Having done that, they fold the paper so that the picture but not the caption can be seen, and then pass the paper to the next person around the table. Each person must now write a caption for the picture they have just received, and then fold the paper so that the new caption but not the picture it refers to can be seen, and pass the paper on. Each person thus receives a caption, and must draw a picture to go with it. Repeat until the strips of paper are full. Finally, unfold and review the results of the collaboration.

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Crayon Physics Review

In one of my Interesting Stuff collections, I said I had another item that needed a whole post to itself. I was referring to the downloadable computer game Crayon Physics Deluxe (hereinafter referred to as “Crayon Physics”) which I heard about through Bioephemera.

Since then I’ve been meaning to post a review of the game, but just haven’t had the time. However, I’ve been working away at it behind the scenes, paragraph by paragraph, and here it is.

All comments herein apply to release #54 of Crayon Physics Deluxe.

Concept and Aesthetics

I love the concept of the game, wherein you draw pictures with crayon and whatever you draw comes to life. Crayon Physics takes you into a reality where you are half child and half god — where you can tie a rope to the sun and make a rock materialise on the other end — and what’s not to like about that blend of childlike innocence with godlike omnipotence? You use these powers to solve puzzles, and you can also create your own puzzles for other people to solve. (Here’s a link to one that I designed myself.)

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Announcement: Play Elemental online

In 2007 I invented my own solitaire card game, called Elemental because the rules are based on a metaphor involving alchemical elements. I am happy to announce that I’ve been doing some PHP programming and you can now play Elemental online.

Just point your browser here. Rules, strategy tips, and other useful resources are all included on that site.

Feel free to mess around. All comments and feedback are welcome, and I’ll be particularly grateful to anyone who passes the link on to other people.

Favourite eighties computer game

Nostalgia time. What was your favourite pre-1990 computer game? Mine was The Seven Spirits of Ra by Macrocom and SirTech, a game based on the Ancient Egyptian myth of Osiris.

The link goes to a version hosted at the Home of the Underdogs, where you can find lots of old games. To play them, you’ll generally need a copy of DOSBox, which I have recommended before.

You can find copies of the game on other websites, but most of them don’t work, because modern hardware is not compatible with the original game. The version on the Underdogs site, however, has been hacked so that it will work (in conjunction with DOSBox).

At the time of writing, the Underdogs website does not contain a copy of the manual, so I have uploaded my own copy (as a collection of zipped JPEG images). I have also uploaded a copy of the game itself, which is identical to the one on the Underdogs site, but wrapped with just one compression algorithm instead of two.

The manual not only provides information necessary for playing the game, but also contains an impressive overview of Ancient Egyptian mythology. In fact, when I studied Ancient History in eighth grade at school, the teacher invited me to read an excerpt to the class. How many computer games can you say that about?

See also this interesting article.

For people who hoard old games

Here are some add-ons that I created (in all cases more than a decade ago) for old DOS games. Feel free to do with them whatever you will.

  • If anyone still has a copy of the original 1992 version of The Incredible Machine by Sierra, then Two Up, Two Down is a freeform machine I once designed for it. I don’t know whether old machines are compatible with more recent versions of the game, as I haven’t had any version of the game on my computer for years.
  • If you’ve got Stunts by Broderbund, here’s a fast track (you’ll want to use the fastest car available, especially for the … uh … big jump) and a complete track (by which I mean every obstacle available in the game is represented).
  • If you’ve got Doom II by ID Software, here is a seven-level WAD file designed in the nineties by a friend and me (see the end of this post for some playing tips).

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Dumbo’s Chess

Among the various things in the book, “The Coodabeen Champions take a Good Hard Look at Australia” (Copyright 1992 Coodabeen Champions Pty Ltd, published Penguin Australia) are the rules for a game called Dumbo’s Chess.


(two players)

Equipment: 1 cheapo plastic chess set + 1 ping pong ball

The chess set is placed in the middle of a room, set up as for a normal game. The two players stand on opposite sides of the room and throw the ping pong ball at the chess board. The first player to have all their pieces knocked over loses.

Note that unlike regular chess, you have to knock down all the other player’s pieces, not just the king.

I have played this game in Real Life, but the most memorable tournament took place via email with Marian Rosenberg in 1998.

(I’ve had the transcript on my website for some years, but getting a blog is like getting a new chest of drawers – sometimes it’s nice to be able to redistribute things into it.)

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Messing about in QBASIC

Remember QBASIC, the Microsoft BASIC interpreter bundled with DOS back before Win95? I’ve still got it on my WinXP machine, having copied it over from previous computers. It only takes up about 300K, occasionally comes in useful, and lets me keep some old stuff that I wrote before I started university.

I’d like to share two of my old QBASIC programs now: a short one and a long one.

Here’s the short one. Red Dwarf fans will remember the incident where Rimmer was so nervous about his astronavigation exam that his subconscious mind took over and he wrote “I am a fish” all over the examination paper. Well, this is the main loop from a program that causes “I am a fish” to be written over and over again no matter what the user types.

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Suitmatch and Counterweight

In an earlier post, I mentioned two card games that I invented but no longer endorse. They are early attempts to invent games that have not stood the test of time. Game invention is a lot like other creative activities in that respect: you know how you cringe when you re-read that story you wrote years ago.

The first of these games is Suitmatch, which I invented somewhere in my early teens. It wasn’t the very first card game I invented, but it was the first that I recorded and I’ve completely forgotten the rules for any earlier ones. Back in the day it seemed to work, and I have memories of playing a few rounds with my younger cousins for example, but when I revisited the game as an adult I discovered that it really wasn’t up to scratch.

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Childhood games

Today I’ve decided to write about games that my sister and I played as kids. None of these games were invented in a premeditated way, but somehow they evolved from our interaction, the rules generated out of thin air through mutual understanding and consensus.

My sister liked to tickle me, and I hate to be tickled, especially in enclosed spaces. This gave rise to a game called Tickling Machines, which was played in the back seat of the car. Our family car at the time had a slideable coathook above each back door, which became the switches for our imaginary machines. The central rule of Tickling Machines is that if the switch above person A’s door is in the “off” position, then person A may not be tickled. Hence you can easily deny the other person the power to tickle you (simply by sliding the coathook above your own door to the “off” position), whereas in order to gain the power to tickle the other person you have to reach all the way to the other side of the car to fiddle their switch. Doubtless the game was invented as a way to stop Rebecca from tickling me indiscriminently; any attempt at a blanket ban would have been far less effective.

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More on card games

When I’ve talked about card games played in my family (Donkey; Ups and Downs), I’ve done so in the past tense, as I don’t live with my family now and card games are rarely on the agenda when I visit. In today’s post I’ll discuss some more favourites, all of which can generally be found in good card game books (though names and details will differ).

1. Oh Hell

In Australia, Oh Hell is almost invariably played with simultaneous bidding, a variation which may be unfamiliar to foreign readers. Card game books published in other countries rarely mention it, which is unfortunate because in my opinion the Australian way is indispensible and to be recommended no matter where you are. On the page, it is described under Variations: Bidding. In my own words: to bid, everyone bounces their knuckles on the table together … once … twice … and then on the third beat everyone sticks out a number of fingers representing the number of tricks they intend to win (possibly zero). As the page explains, “Since players cannot adjust their bids based on the other players’ bids, the total tricks bid can be wildly different from the tricks available – for example it is not uncommon for three or four players to bid “one” when only one card was dealt“.

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