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Jorge Arroyo
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Since I found out about this gaming system, I've talked about it in the forums. I've made some lists about its games, and I even posted my own piecepack games to the database. It was only logical that my first review was also about this system. I want to explain what the system has to offer both as a system for playing games and as a tool to design them. But first I'll start with the basics:

Components

A piecepack set is composed of 4 elements: Tiles, Coins, Pawns and Dice. All the system is built around four suits (as with standard cards): Suns, Moons, Crowns and Arms. Those suits are usually colored (in the same order): Red, Black, Green and Blue.

For each suit, there are six numbered elements: The blank (usually zero), the Ace (usually 1), and numbers from two to five. For each suit, there is a set of 6 tiles and six coins that have those elements on one side. Each suit also has one pawn in the suit's color and one die with those same elements on the sides.

Also, the tiles have on the other side a 2x2 square pattern that is useful to build boards. The coins have the numbers (in black) on one side with the ace represented with a standard symbol (such as a whirlpool or a star) and the suit on the other side. A coin placed suit side up will cover its number, and a coin placed number side up will cover the suit. This way of hiding information is used in many games. Also, both sides of a coin have a tick mark to indicate direction.

That's it. That's all the piecepack set is made of. Usually games use the tiles to make a board (or some of the tiles). But they can also be used like cards. The pawns are useful as player markers and indeed, lots of games use them this way with each player choosing a suit to play with. Coins serve multiple purposes: money. points, player markers, hidden treasures, resources, etc... The possibilities are endless.

Playing Games

The advantages of the piecepack system are mostly two: It's versatile and it's portable. Those two features make the piecepack system the perfect traveling companion. There are more than one hundred games for the system and all of them freely available online. They range from simpler fillers to complex "gamer's games" and they combine lots of different mechanics and themes.

The disadvantages are mainly that the system is limited to games that don't need a lot of different components, and also that it looks very abstract. Even though most games have a theme, it is true sometimes it's difficult to see it with such generic components. The limitation of components can be solved by adding other elements like beads, generic coins, more dice, icehouse pyramids, different kinds of boards and even more piecepack suits from one of the extensions. Of course, the more elements you add, the less portable your system becomes...

The biggest strength of the piecepack system is the way its elements are tightly related to each other. This relationship is essential in many games. Also, another strength is the way the information can be hidden or shown in the tiles and coins. This is used to hide things, or their value and is especially useful for solitarie games (and there are a lot of them).

Here are some examples of games and how they use the different elements of the piecepack system in different ways:

Froggy Bottom - Using coins to randomize moving values.

In this game, players are frogs that are racing in the pond. The tiles (suit side down) are set on the table making a board. The key element is the coins. They are set suit side up by the players. Each player chooses a color and his coins are placed on the board by the opposing player. Then, the other coins are placed by both players and turned number up. Coins are leaves that frogs can jump to and from. The empty spaces are water.

Each coin has a value (1 for blank and ace coins) and that is the number of steps a player has to jump from that coin. Each turn the player can move a number up coin and then jump with his frog. When jumping the player has to move the required number of steps (unless he bumps onto another player or the border). If he lands on another coin having jumped this number, he can jump again. This way the jumps can be linked until the player either lands on the water or reaches one of his own coins.

Once a player reaches one of his coins, he turns it number up and on the next turn he'll have to jump that number of steps. Gameplay continues until a player has visited all his coins and has returned to the initial "home" coin.

In this game, the hidden value of the covered coins is used to create uncertainty. You can plan ahead but you don't know the value of your destination coins. Of course, as you uncover more coins, you gain useful information that you can use when moving coins to prepare for the most likely values.

MazeMakers - Using coins to hide ownership

This is one of my games. The coins here serve a different purpose. Each player has to collect 3 artifacts (coins of his own color). The coins are set on the board number side up and the number is used when a player finds a coin that is not his own. In that case, the coin is considered to be a monster the player has to fight, and the number is the difficulty for killing that monster. Of course, the player fighting the monster doesn't reveal the suit of the coins so that the rest of the players only know it was not a coin of his suit.

This way, the players have to make choices. Do they risk having to fight a difficult monster? or do they go for the lower numbered coins even though they might be farther away?

Worm Derby - Movement

A last example about coins. In this game players control worms made out of coins. Movement is done taking the last coin and placing it on the front. This shows just how varied the use of the piecepack elements can be.

Everest - 3D Terrain and programmed movement.

Here is a game that uses the elements in a different way. First, the board is made of stacks of tiles, making for a 3D board with different heights. This is a possibility used by a few other games too.

Also, this game uses a programmed movement (like Roborally) that takes advantage of the ticks in the coins. A player makes a three steps "program" using his coins: A suit side up coin is used to thrown a snow ball, a blank number up coin to roar, and any other number up coin to move in the direction specified by the tick.

Piece Packing Pirates - A Solitaire game

As a last example I want to show a game that uses the elements to build an adventure for one player. Here the game is played against the system so it cannot be considered a puzzle game like many other solitaires.

The face down tiles make up the sea, and the player explores the sea by revealing the tiles. When a tile is turned, the player chooses the orientation, and this affects the wind when moving through that tile. Also, the number on the tile is used to determine if the player encounters another ship. He has to roll a die and if the result is less or equal than the value on the tile, a ship is encountered.

Then, after drawing the ship (coin) randomly from a bag, it is placed on the board. The behavior of that ship is decided depending on the value of the coin. If it's greater than the player's ship, it will pursue the player, otherwise it'll try to run away.

Making Games

With all the previous examples, it is clear that the few components that make up a piecepack set can be used in a lot of different ways to make completely different games. This quality is what makes the piecepack a perfect tool to design games.

Even if you don't want your final game to be played with a piecepack set, it can be useful to start with one and then add other elements. In the end you can design specific components (with custom art) that can share the required properties with the piecepack set.

For example: Alien City is a piecepack game that uses icehouse towers, but as it can be seen from the images here in BGG, a piecepack set is not actually required. The designer was even working on a stand alone set of this excellent game. (A picture can be seen at http://www.ludism.org/ppwiki/AlienCity )

Also, if you're playing around with an idea for a game, sometimes it is easier to limit yourself to a small set of components to build the basics of the game and then add elements as they are needed. This artificial boundary helps you focus your creativity on what really matters: making a set of rules that work well. Even if the game is limited and even if you want to make a more complex design, this "first draft" can be expanded and built upon. If the basic piecepack game is fun, chances are the expanded one will be fun too.

Conclusion

The piecepack set is an excellent system to play and design games. And on top of all that, the system is totally free, being in the Public Domain. What that means is that anybody can make and sell piecepack sets. Even modify the set and sell it. So, for example if you come up with a great dungeon crawl that uses some of the properties of the piecepack set, you can design a fantasy themed set with dungeon floors on the back of the tiles and different kinds of monster/treasure on the coins, or whatever you come up with, and then sell it. Isn't that great? People then could use your set to design other fantasy games...

And best of all, if you don't have a piecepack set and are not sure it's for you. Just print the freely available pdf files from http://www.piecepack.org on label paper. Stick them on cardboard and cut them with a knife. You'll find it is worth the effort...

For more information check out:

The piecepack website: http://www.piecepack.org
The piecepack wiki: http://www.ludism.org/ppwiki

And you can play some of the piecepack games online at Super Duper Games, an excellent site where you can play a lot of unusual and new games: http://www.superdupergames.org

Edit: Corrected some typos and spelling mistakes.




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Mark Crane
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This is a great review. My only concern is that I wish the piecepack games had BGG style ratings.
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Jorge Arroyo
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Thanks!

You mean in the piecepack web sites? Well. A few of the games are in the BGG database, if more games were actually added to the database more poeple that try them would rate them...

Right now, in the wiki some games have comments that people have left on thier pages. This also serves to guide... but there is no rating system... but it'd be nice I guess...

-Jorge
 
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Clark D. Rodeffer
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Nice summary and review, Jorge. I am with you in wanting to get more exposure for the piecepack system and its games, and I've been reading and (mostly solo-) playing several of the games to get a good feel for them.

Clark
 
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Jorge Arroyo
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Thanks As I said in the list, it'd be good to get as many games into BGG as possible, and rate them. It'd make finding good games for people that want to start with the piecepack system much easier...

-Jorge
 
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Mark Crane
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maka wrote:
Thanks As I said in the list, it'd be good to get as many games into BGG as possible, and rate them. It'd make finding good games for people that want to start with the piecepack system much easier...

-Jorge


GREAT avatar!
 
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Jorge Arroyo
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craniac wrote:
GREAT avatar!


Thanks!!
 
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