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Subject: The GBOG, a swiss army knife for the boardgame hobbyist rss

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Alexandre Santos
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The Green Box of Games (GBOG) is a core set of components designed to allow you to play, test and design games.

As I'm always interested in tinkering with games, I wanted to get myself a copy during Essen 2016. Unfortunately Essen being the messe it is, I failed to find time to acquire it, and the GBOG slipped out of my mind for a couple of months until Jørgen, the GBOG designer, offered to send me a copy to try it out.

It turns out the GBOG has proved to be a great toolkit, and I've had a ton of fun using it to crank out new designs or reimplementations of all kinds of games.

So I thought I might as well share my experiences with others who are interested in such gaming tookits.

One caveat, I have used so far the Early edition of the GBOG, but anyone who is interested in having a copy will get the second edition currently being kickstarted. So in this review I'll be posting visuals of the upcoming 2nd edition, photos of the first, and comparing both.

Components

The GBOG components are quite simple:
- 36 tiles (6 times 6 tiles of a given symbol)
- 54 cards (6 times 9 cards of a given color, with black and green backs)
- 80 cubes (4 times 20 cubes of a given color)
- 2 dice (one white, one black, contrary to the picture below)



Here are the 6 types of tiles (backs in orange with a black star):
.

Aside from the symbols, the cards have side markings on the corners and middle of the tiles which allows pseudo-hexagonal tiling. This can for instance be put to good use to implement Hive with the GBOG:


The symbols also code for pips (drop = 1, hammers = 2, circles = 3, bricks = 4, crown = 5, arrow = 6). Their design is sharp, but their identity is voluntarily ambiguous, to allow different interpretations depending on the games being played. This gives just enough theme to imaginative players.

For instance, here is the symbol usage for Chad's GearHead game, where players build and refit cars in order to win races:



And here is an adaptation of Hive to the GBOG (see thread):


Or One Night Ultimate Werewolf (see thread):


The GBOG provides 54 cards of 6 colors (black, white, green, blue, red, yellow), which means 9 cards per color, numbered 1-6, with 3x1, 2x2, 1x each of the other numbers. Each color has a variable number of cards of a given symbol, even though all symbols are present at least once in each color.

In addition to color, number and symbol, cards have one of 3 backgrounds, each color having 3 cards of a given background.

The white and green card backs allow one to assemble checkered boards, either a classic chess board, or Hex or Yavalath boards:


The card system is simple, but flexible enough to accommodate all kinds of mechanisms.

The cubes are plain cubes, which work well as pawns, denominations, score trackers, etc.

Comparing early edition to 2nd edition shows the following differences:

- Cards, tiles and cubes are bigger
- The symbols design is revamped, and includes pips
- The cards now have symbols and number reminders on each corner, and a different edge design for each color, to help color-blind players to distinguish cards of different colors
- The card backs are partitioned in two colors to allow the creation of boards
- A more detailed back and front tile design, with bigger side markings

Overall the improvements are significative, and many of them originated from the user base. My only gripe with the new edition so far is that cards are a bit smaller than tiles, but that's a very niche concern.

My biggest problem with the first edition (that I'll call "tinkerer's edition") is that the game components are too small, specially the cards).

Small components make the GBOG super portable, and very handy to manipulate while you are trying new game designs, but are a pain to play with, unless you play with kids.

The new edition provides bigger components, specially the cards which doubled in size, and hopefully it will become the "players' edition".

This is important, as you can design all the games you want, it's crucial that the components have a decent table presence to be inviting to other players.

To conclude this section, I have to praise Jørgen for being so open to the user base feedback, while keeping the system lean and flexible. All the exchanges can be followed on the Green Box of Games forums, so don't hesitate to have a look.

Usage
The portability and flexibility of the GBOG make it an excellent tool for many applications. Here are some suggestions:

- playing games : this is obvious, but the GBOG allows the play of a growing number of games (check the rules forum for an exhaustive outlook).
Because the box is portable, you can always carry it with you, and try impromptu gaming. It's also a great way to suggest new types of games to check if other players are interested in a specific game genre. For instance, do you want to test social deduction games with a couple of friends? try ONUW.

- print and play accessory : if you like to print and play games, the GBOG is a ready source of components. Personally I dislike sourcing components from other games, as I worry about losing pieces. With the GBOG, you can just put your PNP game in the box and carry it around.

- roleplaying games accessory : in the same manner, you can use the GBOG as components for an RPG session (terrain, markers, etc.).

- design boardgame variants : again the GBOG components can be used as temporary tokens to design boardgame variants, solo AIs, etc, that you can properly thematise once you have a stable variant going.

- game design : this is really one of the main uses of the GBOG. Either in adapting existing games or designing new ones, the GBOG provides a simple set of components that force you to stay focused on the gamplay kernel of the game you are designing. Of course the GBOG can't accommodate every game, but you can often design the basic rules with the GBOG and expand gameplay and content later.

Another advantage of using the GBOG for game design is that you start with crisp visuals and don't have to worry or waste time with graphic design. This is a huge plus if you can't do graphic design, but even if you do, it's often a good idea not to waste too much time in graphics in the initial stages of game design, not only to save time as a designer, but also to avoid too many distractions for playtesters, who can better concentrate on the gameplay.

But as mentioned earlier, even playtersters are sensitive to a prototype presentation, so it's great that the GBOG provides for clean visuals, and hopefully ergonomic pieces for its "players' edition".

Other issues to take into account are licensing : the GBOG is available under the Creative Commons BY NC SA license, so it is possible for the designer and playtesters to print and play GBOG components.

This being said, it would be useful to have the GBOG as independent media assets, in order to facilitate rules writing, or even to create VASSAL modules.

Comparing the GBOG to other options
For a long time boardgamers have been interested in versatile game systems that allow playing many games (see the under-developped gamesystems BGG section), either for portability, space saving or design motivations. So it's useful to compare the GBOG to what's available, to see if it's the best fit to one's needs.

Multipurpose card decks (Decktet, The Mystique Deck):
Multipurpose card decks such as the Decktet provide a similar card deck to the one in the GBOG, although for instance the Decktet is a bit more sophisticated. They are more portable that the GBOG but also more limited. They are available as print and play or via print on demand. And at least in the case of Decktet are available under an open license.

They also provide a large selection of games, although obviously almost purely card based and abstract.

Compared to the GBOG, I would say that those card decks are great to play games, but a bit harder to design games with, and on the whole offer less options with standard components (although for instance the Decktet system can be expanded by tokens). They are also a bit harder to get than the GBOG.

Full game systems (Piecepack,Pyramid Arcade, 504):

Pyramid Arcadeoffers a very complete set of components, and includes the Looney pyramids, which have different sizes and can easily stack. It includes many different games, and is an excellent set of components to design games.

Compared to the GBOG the games tend to be more abstract, and the box definitely is not portable (although one could source a portable subset of components). One issue with PA is that it will be much harder to share your designs, as it's not possible to print and play the pyramids.

504excels in providing many interesting euros in one box, and crushes the competition on playing games, except for the portability factor. But it's not geared torwards game design, and it would be very difficult to get people to play games you design outside of the 504 community, which is already busy trying the 504 games in the box!

Piecepack is the closest game system to the GBOG. It's a game system dating from 2001 which has drawn a considerable community and allows the play of many games. It has 4 dice, 24 square tiles, 24 round coins and 4 pawns all in 4 colors. It's available under an open license and sets have been published (see the Piecepack).


I would say that compared to the GBOG it offers more games, but is more limited on the card play. It's probably also harder to get at this moment, but is a completely valid option.

Still, in my opinion the GBOG offers more possibilities while still remaining lean and portable. Another advantage of the GBOG is that piecepack symbols are more defined and less versatile, which restrict theming of games compared to the GBOG.

Conclusions
Overall I think that the GBOG is a great toolkit that has been steadily improving, and is an excellent compromise between function and simplicity.
Jørgen, the GBOG designer has proved to be sensitive to user feedback, while preserving the strengths of the system, kudos to him!

I think anyone who owns an account on BGG will find uses for the GBOG, although it clearly is thin on the theme. For game tinkerers, it's a great option, and I have been having a blast designing games with it (see for instance Little Big Town).

Finally, I think it's a great gift for 8+ kids who are into games, as they can experiment and play with their buddies.

Note: I'm not the author of all the illustrations/photos in this review, please click them to identify their author.
Edit: fixed spelling, grammar, and layout
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Michael
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Great overview; thank you!

When I saw the title of your post, I thought it was going to be a review of 504.
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