Primal Games

Primal games are so clean, so clear, that they seem ancient even when they’re new.  

Go is primal.  Its rules are immeasurably concise while its components are simplicity itself.  So are Blokus, GIPF, and Qwirkle–AKA Scrabble for cavemen.

Chess is not primal.  Its rules are littered with patches–en passant springs to mind.  Furthermore, its components fail to justify their existence–consider how many equally good abstract games start by changing the pieces of chess.

Primal games needn’t be trivial or simple however.  Consider for instance that while Deep Blue defeated Yuri Kasparov in 1997, organic Go masters are still undefeated by their silicon counterparts.

It can be difficult to overcome the desire to add a twist here or a wrinkle there.  Nobody But Us Chickens has been my best attempt so at this style far and even it has a few too many twists to truly call it primal.

Or is it that no one truly creates primal games?  Have they truly always existed?  Are their designers uncovering them rather than creating them?  Modern artists in the twentieth century faced such dismissive accusations as well.  Elegance is hard work.  It’s even harder work to make things look easy.

So where do we begin?  Where does a person begin when setting out to create primal games?  Dominic Crapuchettes once asserted that every rule in a game should fight to justify its existence.  What if you took that attitude further–to insist that every game element, every rule, every component–justify its existence?  I believe this would be right way to start.

Adopting this mindset can be a major challenge.  Us designers generally start charmed by game structures.  We want to create our own structures, to impress other game aficionados with our clever mechanisms, to spread our flourishes across the hobby like magic dust.  But to create a primal game is to deliberately step into the background, to create an experience so pure that it feel more as if it always existed rather than being a contemporary product.

I’m absolute rubbish at writing primal games but I enjoy playing them and admire the style of any designer that can pull them off.  Please show me how it’s done.

How about you?  What’s your favorite primal game?  What game came close but didn’t quite make it?  Have you created a primal game?  what was your process?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.