A reflection of our afternoon of play, with reference to Huizinger’s definition of ‘play’ and Caillois’ take on ‘game’.
Afternoon board games – we settle into our corner and choose a game to play.
“Sagrada? What’s that?”
“Do you know that cathedral in Spain? It’s a really fun game where you build stained glass windows…using die.”
Sagrada is a game where the players create stained glass windows by building up a grid of dice on their player board. Each board has some restrictions on which color or shade (value) of die can be placed there. Die of the same shade or color may not be placed next to each other. There are 90 coloured die in the game, and a game board with 10 spots. Those 10 spots are empty and awaiting the discarded dice following each round of play. For a 4-player game, you roll 9 die, choosing them from a bag and then selecting one to place on your “cathedral” (player board). Each player gets 2 die to place on their board, with an option to take both, opt out entirely or just take one (with the implication being you would potentially be behind your opponents, but sometimes you have no choice). We figured that a potential strategy could be to look at your opponent’s board and, if it suits your board (even though it would not necessarily be your first choice), take a dice that they would need/want for their window during that round to try to force an opt out.
One of the questions that came up was: Are there enough die for our rounds? The cathedral has 20 windows (spaces to place the die), marked with either the numbers on the die or colours. We did the math and if we were to deplete the bag during the rounds (4 x 20 = 80) and have 10 leftovers for the game board, that would equal 90 die total. The crux lies in whether or not the die rolls are in your favour. Caillois defines 4 different categories of games. Our group participated in the alea type, or games of chance. Games of chance level the playing field, as randomness takes away some of the competitiveness, since skills, qualifications and experience does not factor in. It is left up to fate. However, some games of chance are higher stakes than others (for example, gambling money in a casino versus a family game of Yahtzee), so each would have different levels of stress attached to who wins.
Huizinga (1955) states that play “must be defined as a free and voluntary activity”. Although the games were provided and assigned to us this afternoon, it still felt like free time, as there were no expectations or analysis to be done while playing. So, it was a source of joy and amusement. I remember thinking to myself that I should play more in general, as I was using problem-solving and critical thinking skills while figuring out the win conditions and gameplay, and doing so was satisfying.
Games provide an environment conducive to collective conversation, and thinking to yourself; being helpful, and attempting to thwart your opponents – all in an afternoon of play.
Huizinga, J. Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon.In K. Salen and E. Zimmerman (Eds.) The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology (pp. 96-120). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.