Ron Hale-Evans mused about creating a benchmark game that could be ported to many different game systems as a design exercise. Do you think that would be a useful tool, and can you suggest a game that would be simple enough and flexible enough to fit in many game systems, such as piecepack, Stonehenge, Icehouse, standard playing cards, or even Decktet?

I think the benefit of the exercise would be that someone could compare several game systems by seeing how their differing components were used to implement similar mechanics.

Porting Games

Porting a game to a game system means to take an existing game and modify its rules so that it can be played with a multi-purpose game system. Some examples of game systems are piecepack, Stonehenge, and the others I mentioned above. Some games are trivial to port, such as Nim. (It just involves piles of objects and removing objects from one pile at a time.) But many games are quite a challenge, and can require elegance to bring the essence of the game without all the original equipment.

You can see some examples of porting games to the piecepack in the Good Portsmanship contest, and further discussion of porting games in the contest announcement.

  • Could you elaborate and maybe give an example of what porting a game to another game system means? I'm having a hard time envisioning how that would work.
    – Todd
    Commented Oct 26, 2010 at 14:32
  • @Todd, I added a section that describes porting a game.
    – Don Kirkby
    Commented Oct 26, 2010 at 16:47
  • Ah, so you're looking for games which are non-trivial to port? Zendo is a trivial port; you don't need to do anything, just make sure you have enough pieces with some duplicates and enough variation. Commented Oct 26, 2010 at 16:57
  • @Don Thanks that helps. I'm not familiar with any of those systems, so this is a new concept to me.
    – Todd
    Commented Oct 26, 2010 at 17:13
  • 2
    While I think that the topic is interesting, I don't think that it will work out very well here; we have discussion that's all out of order, and some of it copied in from another forum, with people trying to respond to each other but not really able to because the discussion isn't linear. Commented Oct 27, 2010 at 5:10

4 Answers 4


Zendo is an Icehouse game which can be ported to different game systems; none of the fundamental rules refer to any sort of specific pieces, you just need pieces that can be combined together into structures such that there can be some rule that distinguishes two classes of structures built out of the pieces; or if you're familiar with Zendo terminology, you need to be able to build koans out of the pieces, and come up with a rule that distinguishes which koans have the Buddha nature.

I've played Zendo with playing cards before (rules can be things like "a koan has the buddha nature if the red cards add up to 10"), and it could just as well be played with Piecepack ("a koan has the buddha nature if it has at least one sun square and one moon coin"), or likely could be adapted to most any game system.

The nice thing about porting Zendo to other game systems is that the rules you make up will adapt to the attributes of the game system in question; the mechanics don't rely on things you could do with any pieces whatsoever, like count them or put them in piles.

For some other game systems than Icehouse, it might help to have more than one copy, as you need to be able to use identical pieces in different koans to test out theories. An Icehouse set is almost ideally suited, as you have 5 copies of every piece, with just enough attributes different between the pieces (4 colors, 3 sizes, a few different orientations you can place them in, a few ways to stack them) that rules are relatively easy to judge and not too hard to guess; but you can use pretty much any game system you want.

  • I consider Zendo to be a port of Eleusis, and as I said in my answer, Eleusis seems too different from most games to be helpful for this exercise. Just my opinion, of course. I still appreciate the suggestion.
    – Don Kirkby
    Commented Oct 26, 2010 at 16:32
  • @Don Sorry, I missed the reference to Eleusis in your original post. I think that Zendo ports better than Eleusis (you play pretty much the same game, with no "porting" work). If it's too different from what you're looking for, could you clarify in the question the types of games that you are looking for? Commented Oct 26, 2010 at 16:52

( abstracted from http://www.google.com/buzz/ludism/FCQD89cPwBr/rwhe-It-would-be-interesting-to-create-a-benchgame )

My initial answer for best benchgame was "The Lady or the Tiger?", which is the "benchfic" used by these folks, who inspired the benchgame idea in the first place. They probably use it because (a) it's in the public domain, (b) it's about a highly significant choice in a simple game, and (c) it's a ripping good story:


The Frank Richard Stockton story itself:


As far as I know, there is no existing "The Lady or the Tiger"-themed game in BoardGameGeek, which is weird, but very good for this project. The field is clear.

If we treat LoT as the benchgame, we can retain compatibility with the benchfic project and still have plenty of flexibility for individual style in ports to various game systems, as well as room for more direct ports among them.

A port of this story should be non-trivial, more fleshed out than Hello, World, and probably more so than Cloak of Darkness ( http://www.firthworks.com/roger/cloak/ ), but still very short, like the story itself. The story is readable and fun, so a board or card game port should be playable and fun. I envision certain versions of LoT -- say for the piecepack -- as a social game, possibly a couples' game. Maybe an iterated Prisoner's Dilemma kind of thing.

By the way, I suggested a pan-game-system design competition a while back.



Don had the idea that all games in this contest would have to be ports of "The Lady or the Tiger?". I think that's a great idea. Anyone game? I've run two previous contests, including Good Portsmanship, and I'd like to be involved in this one, but I don't have the time to run it by myself right now.

  • Apologies for the broken hyperlinks. StackExchange's antispam would only let me have one active link. Commented Oct 26, 2010 at 23:38
  • Now that you've received a couple of votes, it will let you use as many links as you like. Welcome to Stack Exchange.
    – Don Kirkby
    Commented Oct 27, 2010 at 0:26
  • Not to belabor a point, but while Zendo is a fine game, IMHO "The Lady or the Tiger?" works better because it's just too darn easy to port Zendo. It might as well be Tic Tac Toe for our purposes -- you can play TTT with Go stones, Chess pieces, playing cards, Icehouse, piecepack, a Monopoly set, etc. without any imagination or ingenuity at all. Commented Oct 27, 2010 at 4:11
  • I agree with Brian Campbell's analysis above. StackExchange seems well-suited for answering technical and factual questions, such as computer programming brain burners, but maybe not for answering creative questions. Oh, well. Thanks, people. Commented Oct 27, 2010 at 8:33

My first thought is that games are too delicate to be ported between many systems. I almost regard successful ports as accidental - the game just happened to fit both systems reasonably well. You might argue that a poem is equally delicate, yet Hofstadter and friends made many translations of the same French poem in Le Ton beau de Marot. However, I think the comparison is unfair because natural languages have so many more options than a typical game system.

That being said, I'm still up to experiment. Nim seems too simple and dry; it wouldn't use any interesting features of each system. Eleusis seems too different from most games to be helpful.

Mancala? The sowing mechanic seems flexible enough to fit in many different environments. Am I being too abstract? It seems like trying to port a theme as well as the mechanics just makes it even harder.


This is only slightly related in that none of these games would work as a benchmark, but Puerto Rico, San Juan and Race for the Galaxy more or less fit the "ported" description. The latter two were created as card game "ports" of Puerto Rico.

The main reason I mention this is that the game system itself is often the greatest factor in what makes the game playable or fun. I do not have personal experience with any of the systems you mentioned but it seems that any benchmark game that crosses game systems is going to have a rough time being complicated enough to be interesting while simple enough to port recognizably. In the case of Puerto Rico and Race for the Galaxy, the core mechanics are similar enough to see a connection but I really don't see them as similar games. (I have not played San Juan.)

Other games have certainly been ported -- generally they convert from board game to card game (Monopoly, Settlers of Catan). Conversions from computer games to board games has happened (World of Warcraft; WoW TCG). Spin-offs may also offer some insight toward successful translations of mechanics (Carcassonne and its kin). The numerous requests and fan variants for solitaire rules for board games is another place to look for altered systems and mechanics.

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