Invitation to the HipBone Games

In which we invite you to play our Games and see for yourself...

If you're keen to play, you need four things:

one of our boards, an understanding of the rules, a medium of play, and an opponent.


Printing a board is simple enough. The WaterBird Board is the one that's used most frequently, and we recommend it.

The WaterBird board is interesting because position 9 dominates the whole game: it connects with every other position except one.

What can you do about it?

Should you grab position 9 with your first move, and put something so obscure into it that you'll have tied the game up in knots? Should you try to leave it till the end of the game, in which case you'll need to think of a move that connects with eight other moves already in play?

Think about it...

If you particularly want to play using one of our other boards, you currently have a choice of TenStones, a board based on the geometry of the Sephirotic Tree, Hexagon, a hexagonal board featuring three way symmetries, and Tetraktys, a board based on a design attributed to Pythagoras.

Choose your board, pull it up with your browser, download it if you like, or print it...


The rules are also simple, but there are various styles of play, so we'll describe the basic competitive game first, and comment on the variants afterwards.

Competitive games:

Two players play a game by each naming an idea in turn to one of the ten positions on the board. Ideas can be placed in any unoccupied position on the board.

Ideas can take the form of text, sound, or image: a quote, an equation, a musical theme, a video clip, or a photo or graphic are all acceptable. Essentially, a move can be made out of anything in the three worlds... so long as it can be named.

Players score by claiming links between the idea in their own move and the ideas already in play in those positions on the board which are connected to it by the lines of the board in question.

The idea placed in the first move cannot score, since there is no other idea on the board for it to link with. Consequently, the idea placed in the second move cannot score either, to keep the playing field even. There is therefore no pressure on the second player to link the second move with the first idea, and this second move can appropriately be used to introduce a second subject, though if this second move is placed in a position which does link directly to the first, the association between them should be stated.

Thus each player gets to make five moves on a ten position board, of which only four are scoring moves.

Players may challenge weak or duplicated links by their opponents. Disputed links may be removed by their proponent, rephrased or replaced, or stubbornly defended -- until mutual agreement is reached... If necessary, the case can be submitted to outside arbitration agreeable to both parties.

Those are the basic rules: what follows are some suggested variants.


Mock competitive games:

In mock competitive games, an attempt is made by both players to score points, but the purpose of the players puts more emphasis on the enjoyment of playing than on winning. Disputed moves may add piquancy to the game and nobody should be too surprised if players forget the score during the course of the game.


Collaborative games:

Collaborative games are usually played with aesthetic or meditative intent. A score can still be kept, but it is far from necessary -- the purpose of the game being to come up with the most interesting, curious, eccentric, far fetched, elaborate, imaginative, beautiful, or insightful and profound links.

The links in a collaborative game can include not only direct links of the sort found in competitive games, but also indirect links which leapfrog over intervening positions, or symmetrical links, eg between the first and last move, the first and last position on the board etc.


Solo games:

The HipBone games can also be played solo, again with aesthetic or meditative intent.


A note on links:

Links can become boring if they are too obvious, eg linking any and all people by virtue of the fact that they are all humans, or any and all things by virtue of the fact that they are all things. Links should attain a level of interest appropriate to the players: what works for ten year olds will not work for PhDs, and so forth.

Similarly, fanciful links may be made -- and enjoyed or hotly contested:

In a game where a player needs to link "helicopter" and "shoes" by an intervening move, for example, one player might play "Imelda Marcos" and claim that as she was fleeing the Presidential Palace in Manila, she ran across the lawn to a waiting helicopter with hundreds of shoes in her arms, many of which fell by the wayside... and that the newscameras finally showed her sitting in the open hatch of the helicopter, fishing desperately for a last pair or two of dropped shoes with her feet as the chopper lifted off...

This is almost certainly a fiction, but in collaborative or mock competitive play it might pass as a valid move, while in competitive play the player's opponent might demand to see factual evidence, and reject the move if none was forthcoming.

It might be easier simply to say that helicopter rotors are mounted on an arm which itself sits in a "shoe" -- but although this sounds a little more "technical" and matter of fact, it may again be no more than an instance of wishful thinking...

As in a game of Scrabble, some players will opt for games in which all moves must be verifiable on the web, or in a dictionary or encyclopedia, while as in conversation, others will delight in games which are more fanciful and creative...

The Medium of Play:

The games can be played on an odd scrap of paper, by letter, phone, fax, internet relay chat, instant message... by teams at a party, by students in class... but at this point, email is the preferred method of play for individuals, while internet mailing lists have hosted successful games festivals on several occasions.

Suggested format:

The suggested move format for email and mailing list play is as follows...

A move title, short enough that it can be written on a printed game board:

Fred vs Sue: Fred's Move 03, "Pail of Water" in position 5

A move text, to run not more than 500 words, which should describe the idea in enough detail to allow other players to know what the move refers to if this may be obscure, and to furnish them with material for linkage. If the move consists of an image, film clip or other nontextual item, enough supplementary text should be supplied to achieve these goals:

The bucket in question was to be pilfered from a local train station, which was situated somewhat inconveniently at the top of a nearby hill. It was bright red, and the word "fire" was stenciled on it in black letters. Despite this label, the bucket contained nothing but water. It was in fact one of three such red buckets hanging from hooks in the red brick of the station wall, but the others -- also fire-engine red, and with the word "fire" prominently stenciled on them -- contained nothing but air in one case and nothing but sand in the other.

It is my private opinion that these buckets of "earth", "water" and "air" -- three of the four elements of which the world is made -- were all labeled "fire" because that is the fourth element, conspicuous by its absence.

For those who are unfamiliar with the events in question, the bucket was successfully purloined, but while they were making our escape Jack fell and suffered a concussion, Jill tripped over him and rolled down into the hawthorn bushes at the bottom of the hill, and the water in the bucket was irretrievably lost.

Note that this text expands on the title, and allows later moves to link with the nursery rhyme "Jack and Jill went up the hill", with the bucket itself, the water in it, the train station, the archaic theory of elements, the modern Table of Elements which has replaced it, sand, earth, air, and fire, theft, hills, the notions of escape, concussion and tripping, hawthorn bushes, and loss, particularly of precious or desirable fluids.

A statement of links, concise but clear:

Links to "There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza" in position 3: we have two buckets in two traditional songs; both buckets are intended to carry water, neither of them succeed in doing so... for a total of 4 points.

Link to "Ring around the rosy" in position 8: both are children's songs, "all fall down" at the end... for 2 points.

Total points claimed for this move: 6.

Note that in meditative games, at least some of the links should take the form of analogies suited to meditation:

Link to Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection" in position 3.

Heraclitus held that fire was the original nature of all things, and Hopkins' poem accordingly speaks of "nature's bonfire", and includes the haunting phrase, "world's wildfire, leave but ash". "Heraclitean Fire" is thus a presocratic "single element" theory which precedes the "four element" theory of Aristotle, and is also extremely vivid in its implications -- a fact which is not lost on Hopkins.

Note also that Hopkins' poem contains the phrase "This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood", referring to the human condition as insignificant tinder in the face of the world fire -- until the clarion of the Resurrection sounds, and man is seen as he is *sub specie aeternitatis*, an "immortal diamond".

[In a game of this sort, it is probably not necessary to bully the reader with a note to the effect that both Hopkins' poem and the nursery rhyme use the name "Jack" to signify everyman..]

An Opponent

You can either find an opponent for yourself, or contact with a brief description of your interests: we'll maintain a list of interested parties, and try to hook you up with someone suitable...

Remembering always William Blake's subtle words, "opposition is true friendship"...

And that's it...

You should by this point have enough information to decide on the the board you wish to play on and the style of game you wish to play, an idea of the rules that's clear enough to allow you to play without needless confusion, and a sense of the format in which moves should be written and posted. You are, in short, ready to play.

Go to it!


What follows simply adds a little more detail to the description of permitted ideas, some variant forms of play for groups, and some additional wrinkles which can be added to the rules to make the games more demanding, ruthless or insightful... You can safely return to this section later: it is not going anywhere, and will still be here for you to peruse in an idle moment...

An extended list of possible moves:

The idea which constitutes a game move can be anything in the entire realm of human knowledge that can be referred to in a short phrase:

a word, quotation, paragraph, poem... the title of a book or story or name of a character... a play, film, video... an equation, a scientific law, a diagram of the elements... a theme from or the title of a piece of music... a concerto or opera, jazz record, pop song... a sound or sound effect... an image, sketch, photo, painting, sculpture... a natural object, shell, leaf, or feather... a manmade object, model train, deerstalker, pipe, magnifying glass, fingerprint... a date, event, or place... a battle, country, city, district... a person... a creature... animal, vegetable, mineral... a class of objects... an idea...

The whole universe of experience -- knowledge, arts and sciences -- is available. An item could be anything that can be thought, imagined, hummed, written, thumbnail sketched... Taj Mahal.... the Taj Mahal... Beethoven's Fifth... a horseshoe door-knocker... the Fibonacci series... the World Series...

Variants for group play:

Solo and two player games are not the only possibilities:

Group games can be played at parties by two teams of players in competition...

Collaborative games can also be played by ten players who make one move each in a prearranged or random order, by five players making two moves each (in which case the second five moves should be made in reverse order), by three players making three moves each with a first or tenth move made collaboratively, etc.

Added wrinkles:

Specific wrinkles can also be added to the games by prior agreement of the players:

Thus in the wrinkle known as trumps, moves made in a competitive game may replace earlier moves which they trump by successfully claiming more links, thus extending the length of play and adding to its viciousness...

in static trumps, the new links can only be made to ideas which were in play at the time that the trumped move was made, while

in kinetic trumps the new links may equally legitimately connect to moves made in the interim...

the moves in collaborative games played on the TenStones board may by mutual agreement link additionally to the meanings of the equivalent sephiroth on the Tree of Life,

while those on the WaterBird board may also be viewed as not unlike a Tarot spread, in which position 1 expresses the background, position 4 the ideal, position 5 the shadow, position 8 the problem or context or theme of the game, position 9 the process or transformation, and position 10 the outcome -- with the other four positions serving a linking function between these thematic moves,

and so on...

The invention of new and interesting wrinkles is part of the fun of the games, but all wrinkles should be designed to make the game harder rather than easier... and must be clearly understood and accepted by the players in advance of a given game.

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HipBone Games rules, boards, sample games and other materials are copyright (c) Charles Cameron 1995, 96. See Concerning Copyright for full copyright details.