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Pencil and Paper Games (papg.com)
418 points by aethertap on Oct 11, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments

Pen and paper games were quite widespread among Soviet/Russian math olympiad participiants, and sadly these games are practically unknown outside of these circles. Tochki (dots) is probably the most well known, and it even has a Wikipedia article. Klopy (bedbugs) is a much more advanced game, but it's very obscure. The rules were passed orally and probably not written anywhere. It's a multiplayer game, usually for 4 players, which start in each corner of a sheet of squared paper, which is the base (represented by completely filled square). At each turn a player can put a fixed number of "bugs" (represented by X crosses) which can be placed next to a base or your own bug. Instead of placing a bug, you can turn a neighboring enemy bug into your base. I probably don't remember all the rules right now, but that's the gist of it. The games with many players are extremely fun and involve a lot of strategy and diplomacy.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dots_(game)

EDIT: I found the Russian wikipedia article for the second game (I was searching for the wrong name): https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9A%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%BF%D0%BE... . Looks like I forgot the rule that each base must be "activated" (have at least a single bug next to it) to produce new bugs.

I have some fond memories of playing a few graph-paper based games in my childhood (Hungary).

One was an open map version of tic tac toe, where the goal was to get 5 of your symbol in a line. This game was called "amoeba", and if you won, you got to draw an outline around the board so far (which tended to look like an amoeba).

Another one was a kind of racing game. You'd draw the boundaries racing track on graph paper, where the race track would be several blocks wide at all points. Players would start near each other at the starting line, and get to update their velocity by one in both the x and y axes, so effectively you carried a lot of momentum. If you went out of the allowed area, you lost. So, the game revolved around being able to judge the maximum speed / momentum that would still allow you to take the corner.

Later on, I lived in other countries, and never ran into so many of these pen and graph paper games. No idea why.

I implemented the vector racing game as a Flash game many years ago


I played that version of Tic Tac Toe growing up in Russia as well, but we just called it "krestiki-noliki" (crosses-and-noughts). My mom taught it to me after the simple 3x3 grid got too boring.

Interesting. There were a lot of Cold War-era abstract strategy games produced in the Slavic countries that just seem to be invisible these days, and many of them are quite interesting. Here's a draft English Wikipedia page for this game, if you can improve it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draft:Klopodavka

Having never played or heard of the game before this, I am hesitant to edit the page. However, I played the game for a few hours with a large group of kids from 5-15 years old, and we found that if you allow bugs to be squashed if they're adjacent to a fortress, it leads to a kind of contagion where nobody places any new bugs after the first contact is established, and all chains of bugs are just squashed all the way back to the home base. Restricting the squash operation to only situations where a friendly bug is adjacent to an enemy bug solved the problem and led to much more interesting play. I put a note on the talk page for the wikipedia draft, but perhaps someone who has played the game before can comment on this?

Not very intellectual or mathy but my friends and I used to play this "paper arcade game" back in elementary school after Star Wars came out. We'd draw figures and then take turns sliding the pencil to move or shoot.


It started out as "UFOs" (circles with a line through them) and mutated into X-Wings v TIE Fighters. Soon we were drawing asteroid fields, opposing planets with gun emplacements, etc, etc. Wish I could go back and look at some of those old drawings.

We had something very similar only it morphed into an explosion of other games such as one where a person drew an obstacle course and a range of items the second player could use once or another game involved drawing a range of soldiers (which shot using pencils) and tanks (which shot using thick markers) which could be moved using a dot system (i.e. you had to draw a 1 cm line, draw a dot, for a single step) with tanks being allowed to move 1 move, soldiers 2 moves, ninjas 3 moves, etc.

Often if I'm with a friend at a coffee shop for an extended period of time, we'll play the drawing game. Its simple; each person draws a line on their own pad of paper, then the other person needs to make a picture.

You could incorporate a theme, but themes tend to occur naturally.

Especially with the suffocation that comes with technology, simple pen and paper games are breath of fresh air.

I played a variant of this which was quite fun for 3+ if a little more complicated...

An animal/mineral/vegetable is written on a card for every player but one who gets a blank card. For a couple of rounds you each draw a line before finally voting on who you think doesn't know what you're drawing. The main group is trying to demonstrate to everyone else that they know what the item is (and so drawings become very abstract) without making it obvious to the hidden traitor.

I think the introducer mentioned it was being commercialised...?

This game has been sold for a few years as "A fake artist goes to New York" (though it seems like the sort of thing that other companies could easily start selling too, so I'm not sure if that's the only one).

So it is! Thank you!

board game geek suggests there's at least one reimplementation: "Sunken Sailor"

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/135779/fake-artist-goes-... https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/233994/sunken-sailor

We often play an Exquisite Corpse-style game we call simply "Words and pictures." Each person writes a sentence, then passes the paper to the right. The next person tries to draw the sentence in an understandable way, and folds over the original sentence, and passes it again. The sentence keeps being translated between words and pictures, and is often hilarious. No real drawing skills required.

Because I grew up with Oxford academics, my family growing up would also play the same thing but switching between English and Latin. Those who knew Latin would try to translate accurately, but us kids would write stuff that sounded more like bad Harry Potter spells, which the adults would have to make sense of.

My friends called it "Pictionary Telephone". We played it a lot, but not with Latin. :)

One that I've played a bit in the last few years (IIRC it's discussed in Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays) is to draw an RxC grid (4x5 works well for a short game). Two players take turns placing 1x2 dominoes on two adjacent grid squares, one player horizontally and the other vertically. The winner is the last person to successfully place a domino.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domineering and yes, it is in Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays.

This brings back so many memories of hours in the afternoons, classrooms and roadtrips. It's nice to be reminded how we kept ourselves busy before smartphones and tablets...

Sometimes, I'll still play the games they are calling Dots and Boxes. I frequently have a pad of graph paper with me and will even encourage strangers* to play with me.

Sometimes the missus and I will play a few matches. Though they are adults, I'll sometimes get my kids to play it with me, when they visit.

You can even play it with more than two people. When you do it with three other people, on a whole sheet of graph paper, it starts to make for some interesting commentary and labored attempts at stategy.

If you want to change it up a little, you can play with three other people and play as partners. I imagine you could do that with six or eight people, but I've never tried it.

Anyhow, just because we have newer devices and ways to entertain ourselves doesn't mean we can't enjoy the simpler things from our youth. Sometimes, I even read dead tree books. The old stuff is still fun.

* Where I retired, I don't have much in the way of strangers. We usually go out to brunch on Sundays and I'll frequently purloin someone's child, stuff them with ice cream, and play a game of this, or some rounds of Tic-Tac-Toe, or hangman. It is one of the perks of living in a very rural area.

I still have some of my graph paper sheets from uni lectures with Dots and Boxes on (to be honest, I kept them over some of my old notes...). Those memories were brilliant, stealing a few seconds across a row at a lecture theatre to play was one of the things I actually look back fondly of the time.

Username checks out!

I really do recommend people take a break and go do some of those things they did as children. Go skip rocks, play tic tac toe for hours, and climb a tree.

It helps ground me, and who doesn't like catching frogs? All those sort of things make for a great day moment without needing to be in a rush, connected, or obligated.

I’ve enjoyed the Beyond series from Sid Sackson in the past.

Beyond Tic Tac Toe ( https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3937/games-art )

Beyond competition ( https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3928/beyond-competition )

Beyond solitaire ( https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3940/beyond-solitaire )

Hex and Y are also pencil-and-paper games, although the paper usually needs to be some kind of pre-printed board. Mudcrack Y especially.

Sid Sackson's Games of Art collects a number of these. https://www.eaglegames.net/product-p/101319.htm

nice, didn't know so many variations are there, especially the ones based on noughts and crosses.. and some of them can be played from the site itself, very nice..

there is also MetaSquares (http://www.scottkim.com.previewc40.carrierzone.com/squares/i...)

I have made one too - Square TicTacToe(https://github.com/learnbyexample/squaretictactoe)

Great collection! it should also have Hangman https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangman_(game)

Lovely reminder. Though nowadays I mostly think that these are also a great coding challenges.

I remember playing Paper Tetris with a friend at uni about 11 years ago now. I made a single player version in Flash at the time. I was quite proud of the algorithm to determine if a piece can be drawn in place as it's a bit different than normal Tetris rules.

Here it is: http://speps.github.io/papertetris/ (Flash player required, lost source code)

How does one play paper tetris? Most of the links I'm turning up use cut-out tretraminos or origami boxes. Is it like Blokus Duo?

There are many traditional board games that can be played with pencil and paper as well. See the following list compiled by the board game geeks:


I've seen some interesting rules-based design games that are more process-based art than games. One of the co-creators of Paper JS [http://paperjs.org/] is a member of this group of artists.

Some are based on 3-4 participants https://www.conditionaldesign.org/

Some work with an arbitrary number of participants, e.g. visitors adhering stickers to art gallery walls and floor (see "red fungus"): https://web.archive.org/web/20100829051147/http://poly-luna....

I'm happy that Race Track is there (in Other)! It's like a super minimalistic version of Car Wars, but still very fun. You get the same realization of "Oh shit, I'm going too faaast!" when you're about to lose control.

I also remember playing this! We also had an alternate version where you place your pen vertically at some point and then push down on it so that it slides in the desired direction. The end of the resulting ink trail is where you start your next turn. Of course it's quite possible to crash into a wall if you're not careful.

We used to play it all the time when we were teenagers, in class of course :). It's got some nice (simple) vector math going on. Can't wait to teach it to my kids.

My favourite is to play Go: Draw a grid. Player 1 is /, player 2 is \. A cross is an empty square (and you note the prisoner on the side). A cross with two /'s is player 1 again, etc.

Havannah [1] is somewhat go-like and is perfect as a pencil and paper game, as stones are never removed. I've been playing on photocopied hex grids for years.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Havannah

Not really pencil and paper, but when I was a kid I remember using the pencil itself as a die: shave off the ends of a hexagonal pencil (or just etch in to the wood).

No skill involved, but I spent a zillion hours playing "cricket" by writing "dot ball, 1, 2, 4, 6, out" on the edges. Then you spin the pencil in your hand without looking and slide your thumb up the edge. Whatever you landed on was the score and you marked it down on a score sheet.

As a bonus you could easily disguise the action as fidgeting - so you could play during class.


The best pencil and paper game ever

"Heads Bodies & Legs" is great fun, especially if the other person is similarly puerile.

One that I don't see - or maybe I don't know what I'm looking for - is "Fish, Fruit, Flower"[0], which we used to play as a family when I was young.

[0] http://www.lingolex.com/alfgame.html

A variant of that game that I've played a lot is to write a sentence, then next person draws that sentence in pictures and folds (hides) the sentence part, next person needs to verbalize the picture again and fold the previous part etc. Often the end result is hilarious.

Another name for the drawing version of this sort of activity is an Exquisite Corpse[0]

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exquisite_corpse

I really like the academic citations where applicable. Mad props for that.

ah, Dots and Boxes!

As a child, I played this game quite often with my babysitter - an older woman who for close to a decade was essentially a third grandmother.

Our paths cross every five or ten years when I'm visiting back home - she's in her 90s now - and we still fondly remember playing this game together.

I encourage everyone play these games with their children - there's something about the interaction of the players that creates warm, lasting memories for everyone involved.

Not just for children! For some serious treatment, see:

The Dots and Boxes Game: Sophisticated Child's Play by Elwyn R. Berlekamp [1].

[1]. https://www.amazon.com/Dots-Boxes-Game-Sophisticated-Childs/...

How about sprouts? I was introduced to it in Piers Anthony's Macroscope...

What about it? It's the first example on the page.

I'm glad to see Sprouts getting some attention, but disappointed I cannot play it online. Has there ever been a soft implementation of the game? Either AI or human?

I'm sad it doesn't have the best pencil and paper game, where mostly you write something down in secret and say "done": Escape From The Aliens In Outer Space http://www.eftaios.com/

That looks kind of card-intensive. Is there a version more amenable to playing with pencil and blank paper in the back of a bus?

awesome! I enjoyed playing it :)

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