Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Non-Predatory Games

Games traditionally ape life, in the challenges and competitiveness they present and the goals they set. As microcosms of human action and relationships, they also teach and imprint the younger generation with the cultural values of their societies. It behooves designers to imbue games with principles to live by as well as to be entertained by. All cultural artifacts carry didactic messages. Game designers have a special responsibility to the future of mankind to create problem-solving and conflict resolution vehicles that provide life skills as well as enjoyment. 

1. Introduction 

Gameboards have been with us for thousands of years [1], serving as counting devices, military simulations, gambling vehicles, educational tools and social pastimes. Their evolution is a visual record of the progress of civilizations and the dominant beliefs and practices of their cultures, where games could even be contests to the death [2]. 

As mirrors of human communal actions, games are a fascinating subject of study for anthropologists, psychologists, war strategists, and economists. In the 21st century, games have become a major industry in their own right, in both hands-on and virtual (electronic) forms, launching careers in game design for an entire generation. 

In this article, we will propose that game designers be cognizant of themes that replicate, perpetuate and give legitimacy to destructive and hostile tendencies. Instead, we suggest the incorporation of some new paradigms that bring forward the concepts of non-predatory, hostile-free competition. The concept of sacrificing a smaller group for the benefit of the greater good need no longer apply to competitive play. 

We illustrate here a collection of such games developed by Kadon Enterprises, Inc., over the last three decades, with an emphasis on non-predatory competition and graphically attractive "Kaleidomatrix" [3] board designs. 

We note here with pleasure that many modern games that emphasize cooperation by teams of players to overcome threats and problems, albeit still steeped in violence, are a step in the right direction. If games reflect life, they can also help to improve it. 

2. Background 

The concept of games as competition is so universal that it is never questioned. Children learn games as part of their daily life, an eagerly awaited break from more serious pursuits. A child's mind readily absorbs the idea of following rules, taking turns, and being "fair". Losing is intuitively felt as not a good thing, but "it's only a game", so be a good sport and don't take it too hard. You may win next time, especially in games of luck, where one can blame the luck of the dice rather than any shortcomings of one's own cleverness. 

One thing that bothered me about games as a child was the gloating and glee that others displayed when they "beat" me. It was not until decades later that I understood the entire Darwinian phenomenon of winning in a game as a metaphor for winning at life. Now winning is a fine thing. The ugly part is when it takes defeating or triumphing over others of one's own species. 

Historically, more progress has been made by humans cooperating, through the division of labor, investment, trade and collaboration, than by the other time-honored methods of acquisition: invasions, raids, pillage, enslavement, genocide. And most games reinforce the latter and implant them in every new generation as an acceptable form of enjoyment, rationalized by "winning".

3. A new paradigm 

A meta-game  

In 1983 I was pondering the traditional classes of games--war, racing, capturing, point-scoring, positional advantage--and came upon the idea of a "meta-game", where the players themselves invent rules for the game. The idea materialized in an instant; the design for the board took over a year. I wanted it to be symmetrical, grid-like, and versatile for almost any combination of placements of pieces. Finally the nested-squares pattern and the name of LEMMA felt right (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The LEMMA gameboard, laser-engraved, hand-painted wood. 

The LEMMA board allows use of vertices, lines and spaces. Three colors look lively and provide contrast. Any number of players can play, and there are only 6 ground rules (the meta rules): 

  • Every turn introduces one new rule. 
  • Every rule is illustrated by an action. 
  • All rules remain in effect to the end. 
  • No new rule or action may contradict a previous rule. 
  • Only the gameboard and pieces are used as elements in the rules and actions. 
  • A player who cannot fulfill both parts of a turn--a new rule and its action--is out of the game. 

Of course, the game has no end. The goal is to keep the process going for as long as possible, drawing on players' resourcefulness, and to adjourn anytime the players agree to stop. There is no losing; everyone wins. The longest game on record ran 144 rules. 

Games Magazine named LEMMA one of the best games of 1987 [4]. The board plays 4 other games and 300 puzzles. It is still in print. 

Designing capture-free

In 1984 Dale Walton [5] contacted Kadon with a game he had invented with maze-like octagonal tiles that let players race their five pieces across the board as paths keep changing. After agreeing there was no capturing and no knocking out, Kadon published this superb game under Dale's name for it, OCTILES (Figure 2). All 18 tiles are different and include all the permutations of 4 paths that link two sides. 

Figure 2. The 18 octagonal tiles with paths build the 
ever-changing laser-engraved OCTILES board.

Dale's design challenge for the OCTILES board was the distribution of 18 tiles over a symmetrical pattern. The answer was to put one in the center, surround it with four groups of four tiles, and use the remaining tile as a wild card to exchange for any tile on the board. Further, since octagons leave square holes when closely grouped, all those holes become stopping points for the "runners" as the path on which they travel ends in a square. 

To keep the board a closed system, paths end only at the home positions and include 8 external loops to join the 16 outer open edges. 

While OCTILES is a race across the board, similar to Chinese Checkers, the path-building with movable tiles is unique. Not until 20 years later, in 2004, did WizKids introduce Tsuro [6], a somewhat similar game with square tiles and four paths on each, dressed in a fantasy theme story line. 

Games Magazine included OCTILES in their 100 best games lists for 1985 and 1992 [7]. 

A new breed of games

In 1998 a philosophical discussion with one of Kadon's associates, Arthur Blumberg [8], inspired the design of THE POWER OF TWO (Figure 3), with an alternate goal and novel methods of play.

 Figure 3. The Power of Two, handcrafted and 
 laser-engraved wood gameboard. 

Part of Art’s design objective was to ensure interaction between players by rewarding moves that promoted such interaction and to penalize solitary moves. First came the design of the board itself, which consists of a symmetrical pattern of lines, or paths, connected among 64 nodes. 

THE POWER OF TWO has 32 cylindrical playing pieces (16 per player), and the start position on the board has 8 pieces (4 per player) (Figure 4). 

Figure 4. One of the starting position options. 

While all these numbers are incidentally mathematical "powers of 2" (22, 23, 24, 25, 26), the main reference of the title is to how any two pieces that meet on the board have the power to create a portal for a new piece to enter. To win, a player needs to be first with all 16 pieces on the board when their turn ends. 

To carry through the idea of competition without harming the other player, Art gave each piece 21 (2 to the first power) powers to open portals. When a piece follows a straight line from its starting point to an intersection that places it adjacent to another piece of either color, a portal opens, allowing a new piece of matching color to enter the board. 

Should the mobile piece stop adjacent to multiple stationary pieces, each adjacency opens a portal, allowing multiple pieces to be added to the board. The process of opening the portal expends one of the two powers available to the mobile piece and one of the two powers available to all stationary pieces of the same color that are adjacent to the mobile piece. To indicate that a piece has expended one of its powers, it is turned upside down. 

If the opening of a portal causes either the mobile piece or the stationary pieces involved to expend the second of their two powers, those pieces are removed from the board and join the rank of pieces awaiting entry. Here we see the penalty involved in using one’s own pieces to advance one’s position in the game. 

Should the stationary adjacent piece belong to the other player, that piece is exempt from expending one of its two powers. By utilizing the other player’s pieces as one side of a portal, a player is rewarded with a reduced ‘cost’ of opening the portal. The other player’s pieces are unaffected by this usage, making this a win-win scenario. 

Due to its revolutionary philosophy and unique game play, THE POWER OF TWO received a citation by Games Magazine in 2000 as one of the 100 best games of the year [9]. It is always a hit and bestseller in Ye Olde Gamery at the Maryland Renaissance Festival [10]. People are ready for non-predatory play. 

The following year Art designed his second game, END POINT (Figure 5), and gave it the curvy grid he had originally thought of when designing THE POWER OF TWO. 

 Figure 5. The gracefully intertwined END POINT grid 
 on laser-engraved 24" wood board. 

The design challenge here was to have 5 exit points on each end of the board, with path connections that allowed pieces to veer off into new directions on a single slide. 

To add complexity plus interactions and forward planning, Art introduced a novel mechanism: after a piece makes a sliding move, it is turned over. Its move on a future turn will be a jump over adjacent pieces of either color. There is no capturing. Having made its jump or jumps, the piece is reversed again to its original state of sliding. If there is no piece for a jumper to jump over, it must wait for a team mate to slide over and rescue it. 

The goal is to be the first player to exit all 15 pieces from the board by sliding out through any of the other player's open end points. Keeping all of one's end points occupied to prevent the other player from exiting is, in the long run, an unproductive ploy. It keeps one's own pieces from getting into exiting range of the other side. 

Another novel feature of END POINT is that the start positions of the pieces can change every time, as players place them initially two at a time on their own side of the board. 

END POINT earned a Games 100 citation in 2001 [11]. Its artistic design makes it a show piece even when not being played. That artistic element is one of the driving forces of Kadon's design approach. 

Art Blumberg's next foray into designing original games with strongly interactive and non-damaging themes came in 2001 with OVER-PASS (Figure 6), for four players. 

 Figure 6. OVER-PASS handcrafted and laser-engraved wood gameboard, 
showing start position for four players. 

A complex web of intersecting squares provides square, triangular and rhombic compartments. Gem-like disks in four colors (ten per player) travel from the center outward to exit the board on the outermost points; or, conversely, enter through a triangle with two neighbors and make their way to the center point to exit. First player to make the journey with all 10 pieces wins. 

To add spice and suspense, players roll two dice to see how many actions they can take on that turn. This random element was introduced to help ensure that two or more players cannot "gang up" on the other players, since it is difficult to coordinate actions when one does not know how many actions are allowed on any given turn. 

Actions can be:

  • over-passing a connected string of other pieces (except their own color); 
  • trading with a piece on a parallel line; 
  • sliding along a line; 
  • exiting the board. 

Because several actions are allotted by the dice roll (imagine 12!), a player can make dramatic changes to the board and its occupants on a single turn. Players are encouraged by the mechanics of the game to move others’ pieces in order to build a pathway of stepping-stones that can be used to advance one of their own pieces across the board as a single action. The game also allows for exchanging the location of any two pieces for one action, or to slide a piece one intersection at the cost of two actions. 

One of the problems during design was the question of what to do if players exit too soon and leave only a sparse sprinkling of pieces for maneuvering on the board. The answer: while players still have pieces waiting to enter the board, pieces on the board may exit only on an even roll of the dice. 

The intricacies of each turn's possibilities keep this game fresh and exciting--always an important consideration in game design. 

In 2003 Kadon introduced Art Blumberg's most unusual game, MORE OR LESS (Figure 7):

Figure 7. Hand-crafted, laser-engraved MORE OR LESS 
 wood board, decagon grid. 

Unlike traditional games of acquisition and seeking for more, more, more, in this game it is not necessarily the player with the most pieces who wins. The player with more than 18 or less than 7 at the end of their turn wins. Both players use the same pieces, with one player owning the tops and the other owning the bottoms. 

The game begins with an empty board. First player places a piece on the center of the board. Thereafter players place 2 pieces by turns on any unoccupied vertex of the decagon web with their side up until all 25 pieces are onboard. 

By turns, players choose one of their pieces for movement and jump it over other immediately adjacent pieces as in Chinese Checkers. As a piece is jumped, it is immediately flipped over, changing its ownership. 

When you've run out of jumps, count your color. If you have fewer than 7 or more than 18 showing, you win. Sometimes giving away enough is the winning strategy. 

Unlike in Reversi [12], where pieces are captured by surrounding them, there is no capturing in MORE OR LESS, only creating altered states. To forestall a game going on and on as players jockey for either goal, an advancing token tracks the moves. If the game reaches 12 rounds without a winner, the player with LESS wins. This is not just non-predatory; it's downright anti-predatory. 

Friendly competition 

One of the very few Kadon games not developed in-house came from the late Alan Kross-Vinson [13]: BRACE (Figure 8). 

Figure 8. Hand-painted, laser-engraved BRACE wood gameboard. 

The objective is to move pieces on paths of the grid to brace (bracket, embrace) one of the other player's pieces with two of your own. For each brace you form, advance the scoring cube one point in your favor. When the other player scores a brace, deduct from the cube. Reach 3 to win. 

Alan's innovation is that each player has three colors of pieces, three of each, and these can move on three different colors of paths. On their own color they advance any open distance. On other colors they move only one step. The multiple connectivities of paths allow pieces to move between colors and to occupy intersections that can set up more than one brace at a time. 

Brace was released in 1996 as a wall-hanging canvas tapestry, and on the wood board in 2014. It earned a Games 100 selection in 1998 [14]. 

Another intelligently competitive strategy game published by Kadon in 2004 is THE KITES & DARTS GAME (Figure 9) by Nancy Van Schooenderwoert [15]. Using Penrose tiles [16] and a gameboard showing one of the symmetrical but non-periodical tilings for which the kites and darts are famous, up to five players fill the spaces with their tiles, using only 3 colors, playing adjacent to an occupied space, and never joining like colors (Figure 10). Your turn lasts till you have a forced third-color move. 

 Figure 9.  KITES & DARTS board. 

 Figure 10. Not joining like colors. 

Nancy's design challenge was to keep play suspenseful in what is essentially a jointly solved color puzzle. The rule that your turn ends when you force a third color in an adjacent space keeps players alert and careful in their planning to maximize each turn's output. The player who takes over fills in the missing colors and can then start a new island on the board. 

As these islands grow and bump into each other, conflicts may arise that the current player resolves by removing and replacing colors until the two regions are correctly patched together. Removed tiles are given to other players to increase their supply, a set-back when having the fewest tiles wins once the whole board is filled. 

The KITES & DARTS GAME was a Games 100 selection for the year 2006 [17].

4. Conclusion 

Games are microcosms of societal relationships and conflicts, symbolizing the historically repeating dynamics of wars, expropriations, captivities, domination and defeat. Most populations suffer horribly from such ways of conducting foreign affairs. 

It was proposed here that game paradigms, goals, methods and player interactions be designed to present an alternate model of relationships, with an emphasis on cooperation, non-violence, non-predatory motivations, and not inflicting harm on other participants. 

When one considers that the seemingly innocuous game of checkers requires wiping out the entire opponent population, that is representative of genocide. "It's only a game" does not remove the essence of the killer meme from a culture [18]. Memes as transmittal vehicles for cultural customs and values is an emergent theory suggested by Richard Dawkins in 1976 [19]. 

We showed several games that present a more civilized form of competitive striving yet create excitement and strategic satisfaction as well as aesthetic equipment design. We urge others to end the predatory themes in game design and in the world. We urge the true ethic that no one is disposable to benefit others. A new wave of humanistic creativity in game design could be the hottest thing for our millennium. 


An earlier article on this theme by this author appeared in the now discontinued online Games Journal, August 2000,

Yehuda Berlinger’s series of articles on “Ethics in Gaming” also appeared in the Games Journal, dealing mostly with themed boardgames. Of particular relevance is “Theme and Subjective Morality”,


  1. H. Peter Aleff, game historian and designer, Recovered Science and Bell, R. C., Board and Table Games from Many Civilisations, Rev. ed., two volumes bound as one. New York, Dover Publications, 1979. 
  2. Dr. Jaime Awe, archaeologist and tour guide, presentation about ball court at Maya temple dig in Belize, where losers would be sacrificed. 
  3. Kaleido-Matrix gameboard designs. 
  4. Lemma review by Games Magazine, Oct.-Nov. 1987. 
  5. Dale Walton, game designer. 
  6. Tsuro 
  7. Octiles reviews by Games Magazine, April 1985; Nov. 1985; Dec. 1992. 
  8. Arthur Blumberg, game designer. 
  9. Power of Two reviews by Games Magazine, October 1999; December 1999. 
  10. The Power of Two at the  Renaissance.
  11. End Point review by Games Magazine, Dec. 2000. 
  12. Reversi 
  13. Alan Kross-Vinson, personal writings. 
  14. Brace review by Games Magazine, Dec. 1998. 
  15. Nancy Van Schooenderwoert engineer/agile coach/game designer. 
  16. Penrose tilings
  17. Kites & Darts reviews by Games Magazine, Feb. 2005; Dec. 2005. 
  18. Gary Kohls, “The Making of a Sociopath”
  19. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, 1976.

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