“Why do we assume simple is good? Because with physical products, we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to complexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you. Simplicity isn’t just a visual style. It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep.”
Jonathan Ive – Senior Vice President, Industrial Design – Apple (2012 Interview)
As a child in the 70’s, things were simple. Examples abounded in every medium, no exhaustive list necessary. Toys were one. One of the earliest “toys” to capture my imagination was Lincoln Logs. I remember constructing and deconstructing creation after creation, each one different from its predecessors. Wooden logs were soon replaced with plastic bricks. Legos. Different shapes and sizes and all interconnectable, Legos were the natural progression, and from a design perspective, were actually less limiting than the pre-tapered logs, which only had three colors, (green “planks,” brown “logs,” red “trusses”), and only so many combinations. Legos had a different aesthetic. They were colorful cleated cuboids. Nothing else. Everything imaginable was now buildable, not just fences and rustic homes. There were no rules, no “instructions,” no direction, just possibilities.
Simplicity died with the birth of Atari in 1977. (Quite ironic, I know, given Steve Jobs’ ties to the company). Once video games came to my family’s television set, the innocence of childhood was lost to a console, joystick and binary code. Other toy makers now had a tall order on their hands: how to compete with the likes of Pong and Missile Command for the hearts, minds and idle times of America’s youth. How did they do it? With rules, limits and theme. In 1979, Lego Corporation released its first true “theme” set of bricks: “Legoland: Space.” No longer was the “sky the limit,” but, there were in fact limits; this piece connects to that piece to the other piece. Theme meant rules, meant creative freedom enslaved to rote conformity. Dōmo arigatō Mr. Roboto.
Board games followed suit. Risk left too much to chance. Life was DOA, Sorry!, yeah, sorry. They all gave way to Axis & Allies, RPGs and more. Some games in my game closet right now have 100 page rule books. Needless to say, they don’t come out to play too often. Thankfully there are some games and game designers willing to take on the burgeoning complexity of modernity. One such game company is Black Tea Studios, and its principals, Joseph Murray and Valencia Wood. They are trying to produce, through a Kickstarter campaign with around 30 days left, their latest creation: Scrapyard Warriors. The staff of PSS talked with Joseph about the game, its inspiration, and demoed a “print-n-play” version with their family.
Joseph and his company, based in Columbia, Maryland, are Kickstarter success veterans with their card based game Shadow Days. He explained that, with teenage kids at home, all with digital devices and short attention spans, it was getting harder and harder to schedule “family time,” and keep everyone engaged when they did. Inspired in part by the “Operation Junk Summer Camp” he runs, and the fun and creativity he recalled from games like Mousetrap he loved growing up, (as you will see, this influence was a strong one), they wanted to make a game that embraced simplicity and encouraged creativity. Enter Scrapyard Warriors.
All of us remember those first things we “made.” For Joseph, creating music, a game, even a piece of furniture is a rewarding and affirming experience. His first creation was a pots-n-pans drum kit that he hammered out a few licks with in his mother’s kitchen. This spark of creativity lives in all of us, we just need to rekindle it, according to Joseph, who spun that spirit into a summer camp, and now a game where you turn nothing into something.
The game will come with approximately 155 square shaped cards in heavy linen stock, which represent the various pieces and parts of scrap/junk the players use to create their incredible contraptions (“Scrap Cards”). The cards fit next to each other as you create things, and can tend to look like a logic chart or Periodic Table of the Elements.
Object of the Game
The gameplay is simple. Imagine walking into a junkyard, being handed seven pieces of junk, and given one minute to create something useful with it. Ok, how about just create anything at all you can think of? Congratulations, you can play this game. Each Scrap Card has a name, color and point value. Some of them require a power source to operate, of which there are a few in the game. After players build something with their Scrap Cards, the one with the best creation wins the round.
The game does not come with “Rules,” but instead a “Playing Guide” to give structure to the exercise, suggesting several different “modes” of play. In the basic “easy mode” players draw seven cards from the Scrap Pile. If no one is able to create a machine, each player gets a turn to either draw 2 cards from the Scrap Pile; return 2 cards to the Scrap Pile; or trade 1 card with 1 other player. When one of the players believes they can create something with their cards, they yell “Ready!” and a one minute countdown ensues. Each player builds a machine out of their Scrap Cards before time runs out. Then, each player pits their machine against the player who yelled “Ready!” (the “Challenger”). With each challenge, a vote of the players is taken as to which machine is better, majority vote wins.
There are four other suggested “modes of play,” including a “crazy mode,” where players simply grab 10 cards, start a one minute timer and build whatever they can, or a “co-op mode,” where players cooperatively play multiple rounds in an effort to build a machine first with seven cards, and by adding two cards a round, eventually build a machine out of 21 cards. Of course, since the cards have point values, players can just make a house rule in any mode that the highest point value creation wins.
Scrapyard Warriors is best played with families. This is not a game you would break out for your Twilight Imperium playgroup or RPG buddies as a replacement for your weekly play-session. However, if you have kids aged 6 and up, and are looking for a clever way to encourage them to think creatively, this game is a great option.
I was provided a print-n-play version of the game, cut out all the Scrap Cards and scattered them all over the dining room table. I played a few games over the course of several nights with my 10 year old son and 12 year old daughter. Simply put: we had a lot of fun playing the game together. It is a light, quick and truly fun game that encouraged creativity and problem solving in all three of us. The kids really liked it, and while the game does not have a lot of depth of strategy nor is it complex, that is not to say that there isn’t some thinking going on. Plus, it was something we could all play together, and no one felt like they had an insurmountable advantage over the other. In fact, the kids may have had an easier time than I did being daring and boundless with their gadgetry.
The game exercises different muscles in our mind. While the cards you draw are random, along with their corresponding point values, that did not stop us from trying to build something fun out of the hand dealt us. Scrapyard Warriors offers no apologies for its simple game play and limited rules. In fact, it embraces its minimalist approach, and in doing so, suggests we should give it a closer look. While it is not meant to be the one and only game you play on family game night, it does offer an alternative when you don’t have as much time, like on a school night. The game also is perfect for road trips or family gatherings when you have a group of kids who could easily manage the “rules” and gameplay amongst themselves without much supervision.
I will bet you some inventive parent will dream up a “solitaire mode,” an activity the game’s creators encourages, as they will post all of the fan suggested game modes on their website, along with some of the crazy creations people have made.
Joseph admits the “family gaming market” is a hard nut to crack, and quipped that the kids seem to grasp this game faster than adults, (my experience as well). Us adults are often confounded by the open-source-like system this game offers. Besides, kids come up with the darndest things, and my son and I had a few laughs over the rocket-powered dodgeball launchers and robot-head-dirty-sock-picker-uppers he and I created with our Scrap Cards. After a few plays, my son was asking me to play again, and since it is so fast to set up, play and pick up, it is always easy to get a few games in whenever we have 15 minutes to be creative. If nothing else, we created some memories and fostered a spirit of fun, thoughtfulness and planning in our gaming sessions.
Black Tea is considering expansions to the game, pending the initial release’s success, including a possible “sports” expansion and a “winter fun” activity pack, among others.
I really enjoyed my conversation with Joseph, and am inspired by all the good work he is doing for kids with his camps and game projects. If they raise enough funding for this project, they have committed to donating a number of game sets to after school programs and foster care to help inspire a new generation of gamers. I already promised him a write-up of Shadow Days once I get the print-n-play cards he sent me cut out and assembled. I am sure there will be more to come from Black Tea. Check out this project and support a game that needs our help. Your kids will thank you for it.