Board Game Night

Next Friday I’ll be putting on a board game night for our neighbourhood youth group of kids around grades 4–7. Of course, I’ve started geeking out about this already. Over the past four or five months I’ve had a lot of fun playing designer board games and building a small collection of great games to play with my ten-year old son, my wife, my four-year old daughter — the whole family.

Here’s a few of the games I’ll be putting on. It’s very likely, if you’re reading this post, that you won’t be coming to the board game night. Sorry, readers. Still, you might find something here that’ll create some laughs and surprises on your own family fun night around the kitchen table.

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Arimaa: My current game obsession

Designed to be impossible for a Deep Blue to beat the best human player but simple enough for a four year old to learn. Playable with a chess board and pieces but it’s not a chess variant. It’s Arimaa. (Pronounced a-ree-muh.) More importantly, it’s fun. Here’s how to play.

There’s more at the Arimaa site plus an app for Android and iOS. With the exception of the probably-not-going-to-be-reprinted-anytime-soon physical version, they’re all charmingly ugly. Don’t let that stop you.

Using the Twenty Fifteen WordPress theme for my blog

I bugged Takashi so much about the yellow color scheme it’d be pretty embarrassing if I didn’t use it here. I think it’s pretty sharp. And it makes me want to blog more! That’s a good theme design.

What WordPress Themes are really about (and WordPress 4.1)

I’ll be committing code to WordPress again with version 4.1! I made my last big contribution with Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven where I had a hand in both design and coding. (It was with Twenty Eleven where I was actively contributing code). This time I won’t be working on a theme I designed. Instead, I’ll be helping to bring a design from my friend and colleague Takashi Irie to millions and millions of people. As cool as it is to work on the core WordPress project — it’s the software behind 1 in 4 of the websites you visit! — I think I’m just as excited, if not more excited, to work with Takashi on it.

Yes, he’s a great designer and a great person to work with but more than that he understands what themes are about.

  • How people use them as the foundation for personal expression on the web with a blog.
  • How web developers use them as the foundation for quickly producing websites.
  • How motivated tinkerers use them to build up a small business site — probably their first on the web
  • And he understands how a theme is not just for one particular user or site owner but instead is for the vastly greater majority, the millions of people who see it as just another web site and want an easy to get to and pleasurable reading experience.

It sometimes seems to me that WordPress theme developers forget that last part. Takashi understands all these things and thinks about them deeply. Getting a chance to help make his vision for a first WordPress design experience in 2015 come true is an honour and I’m super-excited for the people who will start publishing with WordPress and Twenty Fifteen.


Façade: A card game of bidding, bluffing, and battle

I’ve been messing around with game design recently. Here’s a fun card game I made up that my wife and I took to right away. There were exclamations of “Oooh, you stinker!”, outrageous laughter, and hilariously sad attempts at revenge. In other words a success that we want to play again.

I call it Façade.

To explain how to play first I’ll explain how to score. It’s pretty simple.

How to Score

You’re trying to build Sets and Sequences of three or more cards. A Set is three cards in any suit of the same rank. A Sequence is three cards in the same suit that can be ordered sequentially with no missing cards.

Each completed set or sequence is one point. But each incomplete set or sequence will cost you a point equal to the number of cards in the set. So, if you have a pair of cards that you never are able to make into a complete set of three of a kind, that’ll cost you two points, one point for each card.

Let’s work that out with the photo below.


Starting from the top left and working my way around clockwise I’d score …

  • one point for the sequence of 4, 6, 5, and 7 of hearts
  • one point for the sequence of 5, 6, and 7 of clubs
  • minus one point for whatever I was trying to get with the 5 of spades there
  • one point for the three of a kind
  • one point for the sequence in diamonds
  • minus two points for the 7 and 8 of spades

In total, one point. Four points, minus one, minus, two.  Not bad for this game. Unless I’m getting bonus points.

Each player will have a particular suit that will let them score sequences in that suit as three points. If my special suit was Clubs that Sequence of above of 5-6-7 would be worth three points instead of one! Maybe I should have made more Sequences of Clubs …

Now that we know how to score let’s figure out how to actually play Façade and get those points.

How to Play

At the beginning of each game divide remove all the Queens, Kings, Jacks, Aces, and Jokers from a standard deck of 54 playing cards (52 plus the two Jokers). Set the Jokers aside, we won’t be using them.

Put the face cards and Aces into their suits and give each player a suit. Here we’re using Hearts and Clubs.



It shouldn’t be a secret which player has which suit. Before play starts each player should announce what suit they’re playing.

We’ll be using these cards to make bids.

  • Queens and Kings each have a value of 4
  • Jacks have a value of 2
  • Aces are equal to a bid of 1

The remaining cards from 2–10 in four suits should be shuffled to form a draw pile that will be dealt out during the nine phases of play. A phase is the round of bidding and playing of cards that will happen nine times in the game. When you’ve dealt all the cards into the supply, had nine full rounds of bidding, and played your cards the game is over.

At the start of every phase deal out four cards face up to form a supply of cards. These are the cards we’ll be bidding on.



Cut cards, play rock-paper-scissors, have a leg wrestle, do whatever you have to do to determine the player order for who bids first because that player will be bidding first for the whole game.

Each player will take a turn making a bid with one card each until their hands of Queens, Kings, Jacks, and Aces are empty. Every player must use all their cards in bids.

To make a bid a player will place their card face down in front of the card they’re bidding on. You can only bid one card at a time but turn by turn you can add cards to your bid to increase the value of your bid.

Here’s what that might look like with the hand above where player one is bidding with Clubs (the player closest to you, reader) and player two is playing with hearts (the player farthest away on the other side of the supply).



After all the cards have been bid — player one laying a card down, player two laying a card down, player one laying a card down, and so on, until all the bidding cards are exhausted — it’s time to reveal the bids by flipping all of the bid cards over.


Now we can determine who gets what cards. Highest bidder takes the prize. In the picture above player one is getting the 9 of diamonds and player two is getting the 8 of clubs and the 9 of clubs. Too bad for player two. That would have started a sequence that could have scored him 3 points because his suit is clubs!

In the event of a tie the card remains in the supply. Remember this because it’ll be useful later.

Once you’ve won your bid you must immediately play your cards towards Sets and Sequences.

And once you’ve played towards a Set or Sequence you cannot move your card.

This kind of sucks.

In a good way!

But first you have to deal out four new cards for the supply. Because the 10 of spades was left behind that means we’ll start phase two with 5 cards in the supply. The supply can get quite big depending on how the bidding goes. Experiment with different supply layouts if you’re running out of table space.


Here player two has started a sequence of 8-9. Future bidding for the 10 and 7 of clubs is likely going to be tough. Player one might be able to steal those cards away in future bids (with a bit of clever bluffing) and stick player two with an incomplete set of two cards costing two points. Maybe player two should have started Sets of 8 and 9?

And player one is stuck trying to battle to bid for their own Set or Sequence based on the 9 of diamonds. That could be tough. And there’s only nine phases!

Now we can start bidding again with our Queens, Kings, Jacks, and Aces.

Finishing it Up

Play through these nine phases of adding four cards to the supply, bidding turn by turn, and trying to form sets and sequences. Play ends when you have no more cards to add to the supply, bids are resolved, and you’ve finished playing the cards you’ve won in the bid. In other words, don’t keep bidding if there are any cards left in the supply. If the draw pile is exhausted that was the last phase. Yep, that sad mess of cards in front of you totalling minus three points is it. You had fun, didn’t you?

If you’re anything like my wife and I you’ll be bluffing and trying to fake out your opponent — you can bid in any order so was that card I just bid an Ace or a King? — and bidding everything you have on one card to take a card. Or just to force a tie and continually deny someone the card they need to complete a Sequence in their suit.

In other words, being a “stinker.”

We’ve only played this with two people but I’m pretty sure it’ll work with three. Four technically would work but would likely be chaotic. Or maybe just four times as awesome. I suspect it would need a fifth suit though. You could make by adding a marked-up-in-some-way suit from another deck.

Let me know if you try it out or have any questions on the hastily written rules above. I’ll be playing Façade.