m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

10 Hours in Beautiful 504

The 504 Almanac

Since my last post, I have managed to play a few games of 504, the infinitely malleable and perpetually confusing board game, and I even finished one. (I won, partly due to a misinterpretation of the rules.) Early on in my exposure to actual 504, I wanted to find those of the 504 worlds that not only suited our learning process—everyone was relatively new to 504, so we didn’t want to jump into too many unknown modules at a time—but were actually known to be good games.

To that end I integrated ratings and state of exploration into the 504 Almanac. Both are based on static amalgamations of public data I collected manually—either the specific rating or the fact that the world was commented on at all at the usual sites. I may actually keep the data up to date; it wouldn’t take much effort because the rate of rating and reviewing 504 has dropped precipitously since its heyday late last year.


While failing to finish most of our games of 504 (and overstaying our welcome at more than one games night), I realized how much of a problem the baroque rules for the game actually are, even with the help of 504rules. The division of the rulebook into two halves (one you’re supposed to remember and one you’re supposed to refer to in every game) is logical but off-putting for new players, who are constantly forgetting the base rules, and everyone has to constantly parse the priorities and other complications of the Book of Worlds. Some complications survive in the 504rules site, though the hardest work of priority evaluation is done for you. The problem spots in the translation from German seem minor after all that, and yet they can cause trouble, too.

It became clear to me that 504 would be infinitely more playable (rather than merely infinitely replayable) if 504rules actually provided the full rules instead of only the Book of Worlds rules. Of course this makes it longer and no longer printable on one two-sided sheet of paper, but that seems like a minor loss compared to having a website that puts all the rules you need to play a particular world in front of you, without any of the other 503 worlds getting in the way.

So I did that. My changes include putting in all the base rules (of course) and base game pieces, plus clarifying the map 1 submaps and customizing the rules for a particular player count. There’s a demo here of my development branch, but so far I’ve only made pull requests for some minor features to the official project. To switch back and forth between the full and abbreviated rules click the document icon in the upper right. To change the player count, click it.

10 Hours at Beautiful Pinewoods

I am not a game designer, though I have been thinking about a tile-laying abstract game for my conculture. But a few days before leaving for dance camp this year, I was inspired to retheme a game: the geography game 10 Days in Beautiful Africa became 10 Hours at Beautiful Pinewoods. We happen to own 10 Days in Beautiful Africa, but my retheme isn’t specific to that; most of the 10 Days family of games use the same rules, just on different maps. So really I only joined the family.

Starting with a high-resolution file of the camp map, I divided the game board into areas (you can skip this step if you’re starting with a map of towns or some such) and colored them in five colors that would never be adjacent. I kept track of my colors with a spreadsheet to keep things balanced. Late in the process I remembered that there are duplicate tiles in 10 Days in Africa and duplicated five of mine. I rethemed the wild cards to match the time frame (hours instead of days), and to save myself some time I made the location cards by copying a chunk out of the map with the relevant names and their background colors for each one.

It was an easy game to make and I’d recommend it to anyone with a map of about 50 locations they’d like to turn into a game. It does help to have a real game to raid for racks, but you could improvise those, too. I was happy to find mini Eurogame card sleeves at Pandemonium; there was no time to order them or to get cards printed. By the time the files themselves were done, there wasn’t even time to use a copy shop; nothing was open (except a friend’s color printer) because it was the Fourth of July. I fit the 60 tiles on three sheets (plus three sheets of backs), and the map quartered onto four sheets of paper, plus one for rules.

Although I made backs to go in the sleeves, the tiles really needed thicker paper or cardstock since we were sometimes playing in bright sun. For some reason the trees at camp drip a lot and dripped onto the map, which acquired a nice patina—but actual rain could have been tragic, and we sometimes needed rocks to hold the map down. My rack of tiles also threatened to blow away during a particularly breezy game.

The game went over well, I think because of its simplicity and the novelty factor. The 10 Days games involve a lot of luck of the draw, but they are a rare combination of educational and entertaining. Peter is already talking about printing this one up a bit more professionally for next year to auction off to support the camp. (Note that game mechanics cannot be copyrighted, nor can the number 10.) I’m thinking about other games to retheme.