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Workshop: “Little League”

League regular Bruce Emmett brought some of his International Baccalaureate art students to the field house to workshop some games. In their class they have been developing games as an exploration of creative procedure, dubbing the exercise “Little League”.

We play-tested one of the two game ides they brought, and began to develop another from scratch.

Stuffie Wars

This was a game they had already discussed quite a bit, but had not yet tried playing. Kathleen, who had the initial concept, explained the guidelines they had developed as a group:

  • The game is like dodgeball, but using stuffed animal toys instead of balls.
  • If you are hit by a stuffie, you can no longer throw, and instead have to begin to act like the animal that hit you. You are required to put effort into playing your animal.
  • Each team has a Psychologist, who is able to ‘heal’ her players. However, if the Psychologist is hit, she also becomes an animal and the team no longer has a healer.
  • Besides hitting members of the other team to turn them into animals, a team can also win Invention Points through particularly good acting. In this way, a team that had apparently won by hitting the other team, could actually lose the match if the other team had performed very well on the acting front.
  • In case of a tie there would be a sudden-death faceoff.

Development and adjustments

  • The field was mucky so we used the tennis court, and then further reduced the size of the playing area.
  • Neither team made good use of their Psychologist, so that role was essentially dropped after a couple trials. However, we needed some way for the hit players (animals) to be able to re-enter play or be useful in some way, so we made it so that they could retrieve stuffies that had landed out of play, and if they intercepted a stuffie that had been thrown, the person who threw it instead became the animal.
  • We added the traditional dodgeball rule that if you caught a stuffie that was being thrown at you, the other person was out (became an animal).
  • With the particular group that was playing, there was a tendency to get caught up in the competitive aspects of throwing the toys, but we were reminded that the acting aspect could be equally important. After that, we made sure the referees were keeping track of the acting, and at the end of the game, when one team had all been turned into animals, they decided which ‘animals’ had won their freedom through good performance. Scoring then became a matter of counting who was still alive or revived and who remained animal.

Character of the game

  • This game included a couple really interesting premises. One was the idea of including a healer figure. This is a common feature of role-playing games, of course, but less so for active ones.
  • Another innovative idea was to give significant weight to the acting element, to the extent that it could outweigh the athletic performance. It was a good way of tempering the cutthroat aspects of competition while suggesting other solutions to a situation.
  • There was an elegant play of references within the game, drawing on the languages of hunting/targeting animals, healing, and play-acting.

Stuffie Dilemma

Although we were pressed for time, we also wanted to try to develop a new game from scratch. Since we had the quantity of stuffed toys on hand, Germaine suggested some kind of game starting from the basic game theory scenario known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Game theory is concerned with strategy and decision-making, and The Prisoner’s Dilemma is used as an example of a situation in which two players choose to cooperate or betray the other. In its classic formulation, two criminal accomplices are separately offered a deal: turn on the other by confessing and go free while the other is punished to the maximum; stay silent and receive a small punishment; or if both confess, both be punished but less than the maximum.

There are many variations of the prisoner’s dilemma. We came up with one, not unlike the dilemma a child might actually face, in which she must decide whether to share her toys, with the possibility that too-reckless generosity might be ‘punished’ by having her toys stolen by the other. Instead of gauging punishment, the two sides were essentially betting a finite resource. We had two teams start with a quantity of toys, and based on the combinations played, toys were taken or given to the other side. It was far from resolved as a game, but served as an exercise in considering how cooperation and selfishness might be weighed and valued.

Played: 27 January 2013

For Family Literacy Day we thought to develop games related to signs and signals. We began by talking about specialized languages of symbols (signs or images that have meaning by convention) such as hobo signs. We started discussing possible procedures in which a set of signs could change meaning. However, wanting to privilege active prototyping over debate, we decided that we would use the field-marking equipment and each lay out a simple design on the field, for which we would then attempt to invent procedures.


One of the designs was a pattern of hexagons, a layout often used in board and strategy games which allows equal movement in six directions from any tile.

Megan and Ian considered this pattern and emerged with a couple of games that were not only strategic, but also worked agility, accuracy and balance, turning a patten associated with puzzles into a physical exercise.

One involved a player and a ball, with the player moving across the field, with the basic rules that he and the ball could not be in the same hex at the same time, and that both player and ball had to be airborne while switching hexes. Therefore, it required simultaneously tossing the ball and hopping between hexes — an exercise requiring both agility and planning. A variant had two people in the field at the same time.

Another required tossing the ball and catching it in a designated tile, with more reward for greater distance.



Another design was a random array of dots. We approached these as spots to be claimed, and thought of ways of gradually spreading across the field, with the possibility of the spots changing hands.

We landed upon using cones that could be tossed to land upon a dot to claim it. The cone would be placed up or down to indicate ownership. Each player tossed from the starting point or any spot she owned, onto an unclaimed spot to claim it, or onto her opponent’s to make it change hands. We added the possibility of rewarding higher-risk moves by allowing an extra toss for each spot one had to toss over, and having all the spots change hands over which one had successfully tossed. In this way, one could come from behind by making high risk moves.

Related to the board game Othello, this is a game that could easily scale up and into different settings using different materials.


Long gone jump

A final game we had time to demo was based on a design of concentric octagons. It used the octagons as a sort of target for a long jump game that required taking off from behind a mark and landing exactly in the narrow bands between lines.

All the adults with torn ACLs admitted to having attempted this one only half-heartedly.


Played: Sunday 30 December 2012

Going in circles

The end of the year seemed to beg for a cyclical theme. We tried out three different games.


Sketch of ideas for the game that would become Cyclada

Germaine had been thinking about a game (1) in which the playing field would change shape, and (2) that would make use of the two huge maple trees that stand outside the field house. She had vague ideas about a field in which the two trees would be the foci of an oval, and conceived of a game that used the trees as bases and a rope around the trees, which could be pulled by players in order to deform the field. “Sort of a cross between cricket and tug-of-war” was the shorthand description.


Starting with a 100-foot rope that gave a good amount of slack around the trees, this game developed a lot through play. The initial concept was to use a ball, either kicked or thrown by the runner, to start the play. The scoring would continue until the runner either was put out by the ball, or couldn’t run around the bases (trees) because the defense had used the rope to cut off the running path. First we switched to a ring frisbee, to echo the shape of the field, and attempted to put the runner out by hitting one of the trees with the ring. That proved incompatible with the equipment, so we considered outlining a smaller area that would be used as a target for the ring, and tried an additional post onto which the ring could be dropped to put the runner out. However, those solutions were too fussy. It made more sense to use less equipment, so we finally settled on having a frisbee thrown by the runner, with the runner being thrown out by the defense hitting one of the trees with the frisbee thrown from the other tree.

In terms of actions allowed and disallowed, it quickly became clear that we’d have to set some limits on how players could use the rope, so the first rule — don’t hurt the runner — was soon joined by restrictions on blocking: not grabbing other players, not crossing the rope, not grabbing the rope in two locations.

The name of the game evolved from word play: cricket became cicada became Cyclada, in honour of its cyclical character.

Basic rules

We finished the session with the following provisional rules:

  • The field is delimited by a loose rope around two trees. Both teams are on the field at the same time, and take turns at running.
  • The runner starts the action by throwing the frisbee towards the open field. Everyone must be touching the rope at the time the runner plays the frisbee. The runner scores points by running around the two trees, alternately. Each tree is worth one point.
  • Offense and defense move and pull on the rope to change the shape of the field in order to allow or prevent the runner from rounding the trees.
  • The runner can be put out in one of three ways: (1) the defense changes the rope field in such a way that the runner can’t advance; (2) the defense retrieves the frisbee and throws it from one tree to hit the other; or (3) the defense catches the frisbee before it lands on the ground.
  • Fielders cannot grab each other or the runner. They can’t grab the rope in two different locations. They also can’t cross or twist the rope (but can lean on it so that different areas of the rope touch).

Emergent strategy and possible developments

Cousins Derik and Ryan quickly invented the multi-player block, which was so effective it had to be disallowed. We also soon realized that twisting the rope would make it impossible, so that was also nixed. We did, however, allow the rope to be pulled to one extremity and then wrapped around one of the trees to make passage impossible; that was judged to be a failure of offense, not of the game’s mechanics.

It could be interesting to play this again without the frisbee element, only using the rope as the means of controlling the number of points scored on each turn.

New Frisbee

New Frisbee scoring

Pro mountain biker Ryan Leech brought a couple games from The Ultimate Athlete by George Leonard, a book dating from the participatory New Games movement of the 1970s. The interesting character of this game became clear even as Ryan was reading out the rules. Yes, it was based on scoring, and yes, it assumed everyone was capable of playing, but what was interesting is that the players have to judge their own ability to play, a maximum effort up to that ability limit is required, and “perfection is expected and thus not extrinsically rewarded.” It set up an interesting situation in which one’s honour was on the line not only in terms of effort, but also in honesty when assessing and admitting one’s abilities.

The rules

The game is played between two players to 11 points, with throwing and catching roles changing when the active thrower reaches 6 points. The thrower and catcher each have to declare which hand they’ll use to throw and to catch the frisbee. As long as the thrower throws the frisbee in a way that is catchable by the catcher, and the catcher succeeds in catching with the hand he declared, there are no points scored. Points are scored by the catcher when the thrower fails to throw the frisbee in a way that is catchable by the maximum effort of that catcher, or throws it at a greater than 45 degree angle. Points are given to the thrower if the catcher “fails to make an all-out effort”,  uses the wrong hand, or drops or bobbles the frisbee.


This game effectively gave purpose to may sometimes seem like an aimless pastime. The sportsmanship aspects were really interesting, as individuals had to adjust to different abilities and acknowledge their own abilities. Strategically, the game well played would seem to favour the thrower.

Circle Football

The second game from Leonard’s Ultimate Athlete was Circle Football. Instead of a sport moving back and forth between goal lines, this variation on American football has a small inner circle inside a much larger circle. The goal zone is outside the large circle, and an additional corridor leads outward from the inner circle to the goal zone. The passer stands in the inner circle and has 15 seconds to pass to a teammate or begin to run the corridor to the goal zone. Unlimited passing is allowed once the ball has been passed. The offensive team has three tries to score before turning the ball over.

We didn’t spend enough time to develop a good sense of this game, but George Leonard’s description of it as “tricky and particularly exciting” and requiring “360 degrees, all-around alertness” seems apt.

Circle Football rules from George Leonard, The Ultimate Athlete


Played: Sunday 25 November 2012

Everyone was asked to bring a stick of some kind, and it was a funny sight to see people arriving at the field with brooms, umbrellas, lacrosse- and hockey sticks, branches, a mop, and a piece of bamboo. Others pulled out chopsticks and sticks of Juicy Fruit.

The idea behind the vaguely-worded stick request was to start us thinking about how games can stand in for real life activities like probing, battling, moving things, or navigating; how sports and game equipment might have originally been adapted from tools or objects at hand; and about the potential for all kinds of things we have lying around our homes.

After warming up by trying to figure out the mechanics of the traditional native game called Double Ball, we started by thinking about a game suitable for people of all ages.

Sonic Pick Up Sticks

League - Sonic Pick Up SticksI’ll tentatively call it Sonic Pick Up Sticks, but if someone has a better name, please suggest it.

The basics:

The basic idea is to sneak around a blindfolded person, collecting objects from around him or her. You are safe unless s/he hears and points at you.

The iterations:

This game changed a lot, as we figured it out, even reversing its basic direction.

  •  First, we spread out a bunch of sticks around the blindfolded person and tried to pick them up without being heard. Because they were spread out, it became a kind of free-for-all instead of a turn-based procedure, and it was quite hard to distinguish a single person.
  • Then, we thought that perhaps we would hear better if instead of picking up, people put sticks down around the blindfolded person, trying to get each one as close as possible without him hearing and pointing. So we tried that, but it was still quite chaotic, as multiple kids tried to go at once and the blindfolded person ended up pointing almost at random.
  • Then we realized we could make the action more challenging by making it like classic pick-up sticks, with the various kinds of sticks piled up around the blindfolded person. (That person looks a bit like someone about to get burned at the stake, which wasn’t intended but is an interesting perception combined with the vulnerability of their being blindfolded.) This iteration started to work well, although we needed to introduce some traffic control to ensure that only one person at a time was trying to pull a stick.
  • Lastly, with a bit more order established, we tried a version in which the blindfolded person was told when someone was coming, and they could point only three times. This iteration worked very well, making it quite difficult to pick up any sticks successfully.

League - Sonic Pick Up SticksNote that the advantage may have been more with the blindfolded person if this game were played in a quiet space rather than a city park.

Emergent strategy:

Most people naturally tried slow sneaking, but League regular Bruce did successfully pull off one run-and-grab. Wyatt tried faking out the blindfolded person by throwing his hoodie to a different part of the circle. As with regular pick-up sticks, placement makes a difference to difficulty, but in this version the shape and material of the sticks also was a factor.

Character of the game:

This game came about by attempting to craft something that would be suitable for young children and adults. It was interesting that it ended up creating what felt and looked like a vulnerable situation for the person in the middle, physically hampered and blinded. It was also somewhat unusual in that it privileged slow, quiet movement and careful listening. Perhaps the advantage of young ears was balanced by the elders’ patience.

League - Sonic Pick Up Sticks


Field Pong

League - Field PongField Pong was a partly-formed idea brought by Germaine. The idea is that, like Pong, players form blocking lines to deflect balls — in this case runners — who are trying to score points.

The basics:

Two teams face each other, with a number of other people as runners. The teams form walls by holding any of the sticks. A wall must include at least two people holding the stick at all times. A number of cones are set on the end lines, representing points to be scored by the runners. The runners have to stay in bounds, and must change direction (running towards the other end line) when they are touched by a wall, or they reach an end line, or they grab a cone to score a point. They can move side to side but cannot backtrack. They can score points on both end lines.

League - Field PongEmergent play:

There was some very intense running, dodging and diving, with not everyone following the guidelines about running direction. Semi-cooperative strategies emerged when runners approached simultaneously, so that the walls had to choose one or the other.

Character of the game:

The way we played it, this game has an unusual structure in that there are essentially three teams: one defending each end, and the runners trying to outscore each other. If played again, we could try to make those fixed teams that rotate between the positions.

The verdict:

It has potential, but the functions would need to be clarified. We could further the rare situation of a team game involving three teams by finding a way to make it worth it to play effective defense. Alternately, we could modify it so that there are only two teams, with runners from each team.

League - Field Pong


League - Wicket AwesomeWicket Awesome

Ian brought this idea for a cross between Ultimate and cricket. The goals were three sticks of equal length propped together as a tripod. First we tried short sticks, but quickly switched to hockey sticks. One point was given for knocking over the tripod with the frisbee, and five for landing the frisbee on the ground inside the goal. There were no field boundaries, but when you had possession of the frisbee you couldn’t take steps.

League - Wicket AwesomeGame play:

This initial play was a lot of swarming around after the frisbee, but would probably develop into something more positional (and more efficient) with more play. We started with a soft, kid-friendly, but erratic frisbee, but as soon as we switched to a standard frisbee the positioning spread out.


Played: Sunday 28 October 2012


A new game that organically emerged from goofing around with the equipment at hand, as we realized that everyone was up for some fairly physical play. It was very fun and natural and completely unrelated to the games that were vaguely planned. Brave soul award goes to Bill (age 73-and-a-half), who was just walking by and gamely joined in.

The basics:

A line of diverse equipment is laid out some distance from a goal. Gölstrom is a game for a flexible number of people. In each round, the players shoot the equipment at the goalie, in whatever order they want, repeating until all the equipment has been shot. The equipment must be more or less delivered as it is commonly used (a dodgeball thrown, a tennis ball struck, etc.). The goalie is the one who scores points, for pieces that are stopped or miss the net. Two lines, closer and farther, mark the limits for shooting slower and faster-moving equipment. The way we played, all players took turns in goal, but it could also be played team vs team.

Emergent strategy:

Strategies of rushing the goal in waves are definitely useful, and of moving the goalie from side to side.


  • A “Perfect Strom” is when you score on all of your shots in a round. A Perfect Strom is worth an extra point to the shooter.
  • Conversely, if you are shut out on all your shots, you must shake the goalie’s hand and back away performing acts of supplication.
  • Non-standard equipment can be used. Late in our game, a fallen maple-tree branch was added as a bat.

Played: Sunday 14 October 2012

Notes from kickoff day, a rainy Sunday, October 14.
After realizing that the borrowed couch wouldn’t fit through the field house door, we strung up a tarp outdoors and tried three different activities: Couchie, Monkeying Around Training Program, and Massively Multi-Player Ping Pong.

Couchie1.  Couchie

Cedric Bomford, Mike Love and Verena Kaminiarz introduced us to Couchie, a game invented in Cedric and Mike’s apartment in college years.

Basic description:

Couchie actionPlayers take turns hurling beanbag juggling balls into an overstuffed couch, attempting to lodge them in the cracks. Different cracks are worth different points, depending on the difficulty, with the small vertical crack between the front cushions worth the most. Points are lost for missing the couch completely or stepping over the line. First team to break 750 points wins.

Modifications made:

  • When played in teams, one player from each team take turns pitching their team’s three balls, then you move on to the next matchup. Trade balls with each matchup.
  • Jay poses with his Couchie triple stackA small number of points were given for hitting the back wall and landing in the crack between frame and back cushions.
  • Large penalty added for completely missing couch and landing the ball in the washroom.
  • Clarified that you cannot touch in front of the line, even if the ball is released before you land.
  • Extra points for stacking all three of one’s balls in a single vertical crack (aka Orion’s Belt).


  • Consensus amongst first-time players: much more fun than expected.
  • There seem to be skills that can be perfected. Mike, the historic champion, was by far the highest scorer.
  • Both a light touch and power seem to be viable techniques.

Mike tallying final Couchie score

2.  Monkeying Around Training Program

Rob Larson brought an idea about an open-source exercise activity that could be done anywhere in public: Monkeying Around. The idea, somewhat related to parkour, is that we should feel free to move playfully and in ways that don’t have to follow routines, and that the repertoire might grow as users add movements. It borrowed from capoeira some movements, the surrounding circle, and some rhythmic elements and sounds. Rob had us bounce like monkeys and crab- and bear-walk on all fours, first moving on our own, then facing off by pairs in the middle of a circle.


  • There were some inhibitions to get over, partly because of unfamiliar movements, partly from feeling self-conscious about being in the centre of the circle.
  • Could be interesting to have people move in ways related to different animals, kind of like different styles of martial arts.
  • One way to get people out of their shells could be to have a goal of some sort.
  • To be workshopped some more.

3.  Massively Multi-Player Ping Pong

Nat Bailey introduced us to a game he’s used as a game-design exercise: Massively Multi-Player Ping Pong (MMPPP).

Basic description:

This is a game for as many people as you have paddles. Players are numbered, and play in order. The table is a ping-pong table without the net, or any other kind of table. Each shot must hit the table three or more times then once on the floor (rolling on the table counts as infinite bounces). If the next person doesn’t make their shot, the last person to make a successful shot gets a point.


  • No penalty for not making a shot; serve just passes the the next person.
  • Walls and other surfaces are in play.


  • The number of people changes the game quite a bit. With more people, inattention and crowding become issues.
  • Playing order makes a difference.
  • Good positioning seems to be to set up across the table from the person playing, but guile can be a factor.

Massively Multi-Player Ping Pong