The Changing Landscapes Contest

You can read the relevant information for the third of the Piecepack Game Design Competitions below. This information is mostly taken verbatim from email to the piecepack mailing list.


Date: 9 August 2002

Theme: Changing Landscapes

Closes: 17 January 2003


Sponsor: Mesomorph Games

Judge: Michael Schoessow


The design theme for the 3rd piecepack game design competition is Changing Landscapes. All game submissions must be for board games that utilize a mutable board. In other words, the board configuration must change in some fashion during the course of the game. There are many possibilities. Some of them are:

These are general ideas that designers may utilize in some form if they wish, but they are not limited to them. There are numerous commercial board games with mutable boards. Some diverse examples, selected to help stimulate ideas are, Amazing Labyrinth, Zertz, Mississippi Queen, Agora, Carcasonne, Carolus Magnus, Tally Ho!, Work or Golf, and Dominoes. Each of these illustrates a different clever way to incorporate a changing board into a game, and designers may make use of or modify these ideas for their entries if they wish. Descriptions and pictures can be found at or at or at various other game websites.


There are several parts to the prize.

Mike Schoessow will build a hardwood 4x4 gridded game board, that can be used for playing various strategy games, along with a case and appropriate bits plus a collection of game instructions.

Mesomorph Games will contribute a 2nd Edition piecepack Game System with CD-ROM containing instructions for a variety of games playable with the piecepack, including those submitted and released for this competition.

The winner also receives custody of the TrophyCloth, a card-table-sized tablecloth with a color piecepack suit emblem embroidered on each side of the table. This passes from the winner of one contest to the winner of the next, with each one signing and dating the cloth before passing it on following the closing of the next competition.


  1. Submitted games must incorporate some non-trivial form of change to the board configuration during at least part of the game. Non-trivial means that the change must have a significant effect on the gameplay.
2. Shuffling the tiles and laying them out to form the board as the first action in a game does not, by itself, constitute a non-trivial form of change. A change in the configuration of pawns or tokens setting on the board is also not considered a change in the board itself.
3. The game must utilize a piecepack and preferably should make use of some of the unique aspects of the piecepack.
4. Judging will be subjective and based largely on how enjoyable and interesting the game is (assuming it satisfies the rules), but other factors will be taken into consideration. A changing board aspect that fits naturally, seamlessly, and centrally into the gameplay is desirable. Clever use of piecepack components is desirable. Attributes of gameplay that will be considered positively include depth, clarity, decisiveness, and elegance. A compact, well organized rule set is also desirable but not, of course, at the expense of good gameplay of rule clarity.
5. Games may make use of additional bits (such as money for example), or of other game systems in addition to the piecepack, or may require the use of two or more piecepacks.
6. Abstract games and games with well integrated themes (with or without elements of chance) are equally welcome.
7. Solitaire games, 2-player games, and multi-player games are equally welcome.
8. Games (rule sets) should be sent to before 17 January 2003, 12:00 noon PST (20:00 UTC). Karol will send confirmation back to the author, then cover the author's identity and send the game on. Between 10 January and 17 January confirmation will be within 24 hours. For earlier submissions confirmation may occasionally take longer. Judging will be blind; the play testers and judge will not find out the authors' identities until after the winner has been selected.
9. Karol will also proofread the rules and send the proofed version or corrections to the author for approval. Please note that she will not be judging content, just adjusting grammar, punctuation, and spelling (highly desirable before the game is added to the CD-ROM). If the proofed copy is not acceptable to the author or Karol does not receive the go-ahead before 12:00 PST 17 January, judging will be based on the original rules as submitted.
10. The winner of the competition will be announced on 17 February 2003. If the quantity of game submissions is larger than anticipated this date may be pushed back.
11. Designers are encouraged to submit their games early. There will be no penalty or stigma for sending in changes or updates to your game rules up to the 17 January deadline, and entrants are encouraged to submit updates based on their own continued play testing. Karol would appreciate it if areas of change in rule updates were pointed out.
12. Game entries may be in PDF form, in HTML format, in MS Word files, or in plain text with accompanying JPGs, or GIFs if required for figures.
13. The submission must be freely redistributable. Authors are free to retain copyright.
14. The submission(s) must have a header containing the Title, Version Number, Date, Number of Players, Approximate Length of Game, Equipment Required, Author, Copyright, and Licensing Information.

The author of the wining game also wins the opportunity to define and judge the next piecepack game design competition and arrange for the prize if he or she wishes. Agreement to this is not a requirement for entry however, and if the winner does not wish to judge the next competition he or she can suggest another judge, or we can improvise.

Submitted games will be added to the site following the close of the competition.

Questions and comments are always welcome. Preferably post them to the piecepack discussion group (I encourage entrants to join the group if they have not yet. Go to Good luck and much encouragement to all who would like to participate. I'm looking forward to play testing some fun new games!

Michael Schoessow

Design Contest Winner Announcement

Date: 3 March 2003

The winner of the Third Piecepack Game Design Competition is,....

New City by Rob LeGood

Congratulations Rob!

Runner up was IceFloe by Tim Schutz, and the game that most elegantly fit the Changing Landscapes theme was clearly SanAndreas by James Kyle.

Choosing the winner was not too difficult and all the play-testers who tried New City agreed that it should probably win. This is not to say that there weren't other excellent games; there were, and choosing the runner up took a bit more thought.

Of the sixteen games submitted, two were purely abstract (although one had an attached theme), five involved the memory of hidden information, three were German-style family strategy games, two were racing games, and three involved auction/voting type elements. One game was strictly 2-player, while the others were variously either 2-4, 3-4 or 4-player. Most of the games included some sort of luck element, either via a die or through blind tile selection. Interestingly, three games had themes involving icebergs or frozen lakes. Five games had themes dealing with kingdoms or royalty. Only one game was clearly themeless. All in all, it was a nice selection. In terms of play-quality there was also a fairly wide spread, with some games feeling thoroughly dialed in while others would benefit from further play-testing and tweaking.

New City is German-style game of city building. As with many German games, it is played in "rounds", with various actions (including an auction, a district-building phase, an improvement-building phase, an income collection phase, etc.) taking place in order each round. It displays the typical elements of an excellent game; there are difficult decisions almost every turn and there is a lot of player interaction on a couple of different levels. The game also has good depth and excellent clarity, as well as the right sort of randomizing element to insure good re-playability. As with many excellent games of this genre, thoughtful play is well rewarded, and in my opinion the balance between luck and skill is just where it should be with enough luck to keep things interesting but not so much that a skilled player will be unjustly robbed of a deserved victory. Rob lists the game as strictly 4-player, but we happily discovered at one point (when there were only two of us present and we wanted to play New City again) that it plays very well with two players if each player takes two oppositely positioned city quarters and then at the end of the game scores only the income of his or her lower scoring quarter. The rules to New City are also well written, with a nice dose of wry humor. I do have one very minor criticism. The scoring track, although workable, is inconvenient compared to just using some coins to keep track of income, and after the first game we always used coins for money.

IceFloe is another game that displayed balance and polish, and was also surprisingly fun to play considering that it's pretty abstract in nature. I don't mean to imply anything against abstract games (which I'm a big fan of) but usually I think of them as providing "satisfaction" rather than "fun". The heart of this game is a clever secret voting mechanism for elimination of part of the board each round of turns. Two critical rules really make this work well; firstly, there is always one player (called the torch-bearer) who oversees the vote and in the case of a tie the torch-bearer gets to decide the outcome. This leads to some very interesting bluffing, temporary alliances, etc. It all feels rather Knizian in some ways. Secondly, table-talk is regulated. Talking is allowed but only in generalities, with the utterance of names, numbers, colors, etc. being sharply proscribed, with violators losing voting rights for one round. Altogether it's a highly enjoyable game. Thanks Tim! One last thing; the rules suggest that the torch-bearer be identified by an actual burning item such as a candle that can be passed to the next player between rounds. This is essential for proper enjoyment of the game. We used one of those giant stand-alone candles (3" dia. by 8" high) and it was very satisfying to have the torch passed to you at the beginning of a round.

San Andreas is a fairly quick game that probably falls into the category of "filler", perfect at the beginning or end of a game evening. It's a great little game (and extra-interesting for those of us living on the California coast) using tiles arrayed to form a map of California, with pieces tilting or shifting in response to earthquakes during the game. Players are scored on towns they place, with the ones near the coast being more lucrative, IF they make it to the end of the game without being buried (literally) or falling into the ocean. Good fun.

In addition to New City, IceFloe, and San Andreas, there were a number of other games that I particularly liked for various reasons. Decay was the only purely abstract game and it is based on a tile placement/array system different from anything I've seen before. If you like abstracts and want to try something different, give it a try. FroggyBottom is an unassuming little game that is quite enjoyable. It's the only 2-player game in the group and is a racing game (in the game theory sense) with a memory element. It's also a quick play so it's another nice filler. King's Cottage is clever game with a number of unique ideas. It also has a major memory aspect, and this makes it feel like a lot of work to play for people like me (my memory isn't so hot), but I found it to be fun just the same. The theme (competing craft houses and builders constructing and furnishing a cottage for the king) is particularly well done. The game works well for 2-4 players but it is a game with a fairly high luck element so mileage may vary on that account.

Let me describe how the timing worked with the game judging and author identities, just to answer some questions that would otherwise come in over the next few days. FIRST I sent my choice for winner, runner-up, etc. to Karol in her capacity as contest administrator, and THEN she sent me a cross-listing of authors names and game titles so I could include author names in this posting. Thus I did not know author identities until after I had decided the winners.

I want to give special thanks to Karol at Mesomorph Games for the huge amount of work she has done, including organization, proof-reading, and tracking down answers to my questions to the authors. I think that for future contests we should probably re-think how these aspects of the contest work because it's an unreasonable amount of effort to ask of one person. Thanks Karol for making everything work smoothly!

I also want to thank Lisa, Reinhard, Gabi, Shay, Wei-Hwa, Arik, Barry, and Santiago for playing the games with me and contributing their opinions and insights.

I will be contacting Rob concerning the prize etc., and if any other of the game authors are interested in the play-testers' opinions and comments about their games, feel free to e-mail me privately (mschoessow@s...).

The rules for all sixteen games are posted at the site. Karol asked me to pass on to the authors that if they have any questions about the rules for their games as posted on the site they should send e-mails to and put the game name as the subject. Authors will now also have an opportunity to make changes to their rules sets before they are added to the rules CD.

Once again, congratulations to the winning authors and thanks to all who participated. I encourage you, and all piecepack enthusiasts, to participate in the next competition!