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Microgames: Small is beautiful

Brett J. Gilbert
United Kingdom
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Mandala / Lookout, Funforge, 999, Asmodee
Microbadge: Fan of Good Little Games • Free print-and-play microgamesMicrobadge: I play with red!Microbadge: Lego Games fanMicrobadge: Carcassonne fanMicrobadge: Divinare fan
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It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.
— Arthur Conan Doyle

The wheels are in motion for the launch of my new project Good Little Games: which I am describing as a showcase of free print-and-play microgames. You can point your browser at (although there’s not much to look at just yet) or follow @goodlittlegames, which will be the primary (and, I promise, not too shouty) news feed for the site once it’s on stream.

What’s a microgame? As with all neologisms, that probably depends on who you ask. I’ve chosen to adopt Alan Paull’s definition of a microgame as a card-based game in which the only bespoke, printed components are 18 or fewer cards. Why 18? Why not! For starters, you can fit 18 Poker-sized cards on two sheets of paper, making delivering the games as print-and-play games straightforward, and keeping the amount of printing needed before the actual playing bit can kick in to a minimum. (The card images will all be sized so that they can be either pasted-up or sleeved with regular Poker-sized or M:tG cards.)

One of the core attractions of the microgame for players is, I think, portability. You can fit an 18-card deck into the smallest of spaces, and conceivably have your favourites with you at all times, ready and waiting to be brought out almost anywhere, to deliver a quick blast of fun during the briefest of downtimes.

For the designer — at least for this designer — their attraction is also in the intellectual challenge of creating something small, but perfectly formed; the distillation of something larger to discover its essential nature. There’s nowhere to hide; no room for lazy thinking or rough edges; no room for anything other than that which is vital. Indeed, you might think there’s barely enough room for a game at all — and there’s the rub! Just how much game can you fit into such small a box?

Microgames also very much feel like an idea whose time has come. The success and sheer presence of the smallest of gems — Love Letter and Coup: I’m looking in your direction — at last year’s Essen was undeniable. And it’s hardly gone unnoticed by the great and the good of the design community. Abundant designer Daniel Solis has been documenting the recent development of his microgame Suspense on his blog, the game-design tweeters are all a-chatter, and over at TMG, Michael Mindes is busy plotting (and blogging about) something which is not-so-entirely-dissimilar (although definitely more organised!).

The microgame has arrived. And little wonder, you might say.

This post also appears on BrettSpiel, my board game design blog.
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