The Barrows: A Dust to Dust Boardgame

With constructive and much-appreciated feedback from friends, I’ve created another boardgame for Dust to Dust. As with its predecessor, and the Duel Arcane, the goal is to create uniquely setting-appropriate ways to pass the time with your friends, mostly using pieces that characters already have a reason to carry on them. Both games use colored stones or beads, and dominoes.

The games mostly see use at in-play parties and our yearly Beerfest event. Yesterday marked our third annual Beerfest, in fact! On such occasions, players also play poker, tarocchi (using DtD’s Tarot of Dust – it works fine despite the differences), Liar’s Dice, Go, classic dominoes games, Three Stones, and Cornhole (better known in DtD as Choke the Dragon… ahem). Anyway, the point is that we set out to make games-within-the-game a significant part of world culture. On one hand, it’s convenient if players have ways of staying in character and entertaining themselves at the same time, and if that inspires them to stage tournaments or do some betting, so much the better. On the other, we really like to challenge player skills in as many different ways as possible, and establishing competitive games as part of the world’s context means that rivalries with NPCs and some other conflicts can be resolved through games – a tolerably common device in other media. It has the benefit of being incredibly clear who has won.

Having lots of games that specifically involve dominoes is useful as protective camouflage for secret ritualists. Carrying dominoes isn’t evidence of wizardly ability in the setting.

At the start of our third season, I would say that a few players have bought deeply into these peripheral games, but most of the players have played only rarely, if at all. Games that aren’t DtD-specific have a slightly better penetration rate among the playerbase, for obvious reasons of familiarity; also, games that support large numbers of players are fated to do well, while the games I’ve created are two-player games by default and we haven’t really tested their expansibility. I have been happy to hear that people enjoy Stones of the Wall; its mental gymnastics are kind of interesting from turn to turn.

By way of improving my own capacity to design in the existing constraints, I have some thoughts on what is holding back player adoption. I recognize this as a revolting level of navel-gazing, but for God’s sake, it’s a blog. If I weren’t a raving egotist I wouldn’t have started it, much less maintained it this long.

I think the main problem is that, while dominoes and colored stones are accessible and portable, they’re sort of a lot of work to set up if you might need to drop what you’re doing at a moment’s notice – rather worse than a deck of cards, though definitely not worse than a deck of cards plus either chips or cash. Bones-and-stones are bulkier to carry around than a normal deck of playing cards, and those who aren’t playing ritualists probably haven’t customized their costuming to make sure they can comfortably carry bones. These points we could nominally address by placing complete game sets in common areas, though the odds are reasonably good that we’d have to replace the sets of bones because one or two would go missing if those using them weren’t careful.

If I come up with more games – and that is by no means guaranteed, I just make new games when I have new ideas – I might try to improve portability somehow. I’m not sure how I’d do that, other than making a new Tarot card game. That, of course, runs into the fact that there are still relatively few Tarot of Dust decks in circulation. I have comparatively little interest in making a game that uses a 52-card deck, as that has no particular connection to DtD; even the use of four suits clashes with DtD’s 3/5/7/9 numerology.

I would like to use things that the player adventuring types are likely to have on them anyway. That was the initial idea behind using dominoes, of course; I’m not sure there’s anything equally universal without making a game out of coin-flipping (as I seem to recall Daniel Solis may have done). Maybe spell packets or rope (well, a few characters carry a classic fifty-foot coil).

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