System games for fun and profit

A lot of new tulpamancers want to play games with their tulpas. Even if that doesn’t sound like fun already, here are some reasons you might want to try:

  • Most games require switching mental functions and perhaps physical control rapidly between players, which is great practice if any of the players are new to that.
  • Having a few goofy signature games like several of the ones we present below for your system helps bring you together and keep you interacting regularly.
  • If you have a few games that don’t require any equipment, and all the players you need are always right with you, it’s very hard to get bored anywhere.

The trick is finding games that work well. Most people can’t keep information they’re staring right at from their systemmates no matter how much they try, which is a critical part of many competitive games. (Greta and I have always wanted to play “20 Questions,” for example, but it has proven completely hopeless, at least anytime in the foreseeable future.) Perfect information games have no hidden information except other players’ strategies, so they tend to work especially well. In many cases, knowing some of another player’s strategy turns out to be less of an issue than you would think. Most people consider hidden strategies to be an integral part of chess, for example, but Greta and I play chess all the time with no issues. The games do play out slightly differently from average games (they tend to be a little bit closer and sometimes oddly symmetrical), but we still beat each other and often even make substantial mistakes and miss important points – even when we occasionally stop and discuss our positions with each other.

We here present seven games that we play regularly and have found to work well. They all require minimal and simple equipment, if any at all. Many are well-known or fairly obvious; a couple we made up.

Misunderestimation (after George Bush Jr.): An on-the-spot form of over-under betting for two players. We like to crack it out when we’re waiting on an unknown figure, like if we wonder how long it will take us to complete a task or we’re standing at the till waiting for our groceries to be rung up.

The first person to notice an unknown figure that could be estimated announces a pivot point (e.g., 20 minutes, $50.00). The second player chooses “over” or “under”. The second player wins if they call it correctly. If you have more than two in your system, the first person can pick someone to challenge.

Categories: One player picks some kind of category, e.g., “colors”, “building materials”, “breeds of donkey”, “buildings we’ve spent more than 24 hours in”. (Most of the time, the specific categories are no good because only one or two people will know enough to keep the game going. But with your headmates it’s lots of fun to pick ridiculously specific things you all know about and laugh at yourselves for it.) All players then take turns naming an item from that category. A player who names an item that has already been named or who cannot think of another matching item in a reasonable amount of time is out. The last standing wins.

We sometimes extend the timeframe over hours and play while we’re doing other things. We just announce new items whenever we happen to think of them. Nobody usually wins these, as we rarely get to the end before we forget we’re playing!

The Game: This is an immature, infuriating, and surprisingly entertaining game you can play continuously to annoy your systemmates. It’s based on the same principle as the old saw about not thinking of a white bear. There are three simple rules:

  • Everyone is always playing The Game.
  • If you think about The Game, you lose.
  • If you lose, you have to announce it.

Of course, as soon as you announce it everyone else will lose as well…actually, you probably don’t even have to explicitly announce it to annoy your headmates.

Alphabet Description: This is a more complicated version of the classic “alphabet game” that Greta and I developed on a rather long bus ride. It has the benefits of being playable even when you’re not on the road and being considerably less frustrating when you come to Q and can’t find any signs with a Q on them for 45 minutes.

As in the traditional version, players look at their environment and announce words or phrases that begin with each of the letters of the alphabet in turn. However, rather than literally finding the words or phrases written out, you have to make up words or phrases describing the things you see. For instance, if I see a mouse run across the street in front of me and I’m on S, I could say “small furry rodent.” The other players must approve of your phrase before you can move on to the next letter; there aren’t any hard rules on what constitutes an acceptable phrase, and we tend to lower our standards if we’ve been stuck for a while, but in general it needs to be creative and non-obvious and begin with an interesting content word (e.g., tacking a “the” on the front for the letter T is no good). Foreign languages, made-up words, and in-jokes are highly encouraged. If it makes you laugh, you should definitely approve it regardless.

We have the following additional rules:

  • To encourage creativity, if you see a sign, you cannot use any words on that sign to describe the thing the sign refers to. For example, if you see a “gas” sign in front of a gas station, you can’t say “gas station”. But you can still say “fossil fuel distribution point”, and you could say “gas guzzler” if you saw a Hummer across the street, since the sign is not describing the Hummer.
  • For N, no phrase beginning with “no”, “not”, “non”, or equivalent can be used; this would be far too easy.
  • Since barely any English words useful in this context begin with X, anything beginning with “ex” is an acceptable start word for X. Bonus points if you manage to use a phrase that starts with an actual X though.
  • If you are in a moving vehicle, you may want to impose the usual rule that you cannot use anything inside the vehicle, but this is entirely optional.

Greta and I normally play cooperatively or alternate letters because it’s too difficult for us to be on different letters at once, but if you’re a whole lot better than we are at parallel processing, you can race to the end of the alphabet instead. You can also use a stopwatch to time how long it takes each player to complete a certain set of letters, but this may be unfair if your environment changes in the meantime.

If you get really good at this game, try coming up with phrases that end in the letter; much like trying to recite the alphabet backwards, this doesn’t seem too bad but is remarkably hard because we don’t tend to think about words that end in a particular letter very often. Note that some languages barely ever end words with certain letters (e.g., only a handful of foreign words end in “U” in English), so you might have to make exceptions for those.

Since it doesn’t require a large number of signs, you don’t have to be traveling to play this version; you can do it in a boring meeting room or even in wonderland. The number of phrases you can come up with is practically limitless, so while it’s easier and more fun in an interesting environment, you can get away with a pretty boring space.

Chess: This is pretty self-explanatory. It’s helpful to get a turntable or even just a soft cloth to put under the board so you can rotate it and always have the active player’s pieces facing you. It can also be surprisingly difficult to keep track of whose turn it is; we’ve found that using a chess clock helps us remember to switch places.

Double solitaire: This is a variant of standard Klondike solitaire for more than one player. Each player takes one deck of cards and deals out their tableau of seven stacks in the usual fashion, but the foundation piles (the ones that build on an ace) are placed in the center and shared between both players. Normally the two players sit across from each other, but if you’re playing with your headmates you’re probably better off laying them side by side so you don’t have to keep walking around the table.

You can either play cooperatively or competitively. For competitive games, if the game is won, the player to get all their cards in the center first wins; otherwise, the player with the largest number of cards in the center wins.

Unless you have have superhuman vision and multitasking skills, you’ll have to swap players every few seconds or moves. (This is excellent practice for switching active thinkers and for general mental agility.) When Greta and I play, we sit between the two tableaus and I use our right hand and she uses our left, so the swap is entirely mental and happens very quickly. If we find we’re racing at any given point, especially at the end of a winning game, we keep it a “race” by allowing one second to identify which card needs to be moved to which pile; if we fail to do so we lose our turn.

The game easily expands to more than two players, but with increasing numbers of players it quickly becomes difficult to reach all the cards if you only have one body at the table.

Dominoes: Many different domino games work; having a little bit of extra information about other players’ tiles turns out to be a fairly minor problem in many domino games. We also find we very rarely remember what tiles the other player has anyway unless they’re down to one or two, even without explicitly trying to keep them separate. We do add a rule that if one of us knows a piece of information we wouldn’t know if we were playing someone outside of our head, we can’t make a play based on that information unless we can justify making it for other reasons (i.e., it is obviously a good play regardless).

Greta and I made up a perfect information domino game that avoids these problems entirely. We call it Containment. It somewhat resembles the old paper-and-pencil game where you try to create boxes on grid paper. It requires a good bit of thinking and planning, so pick a time when you have good mental function to have a shot at it. We’ve only tried it with two players, but we expect it should work with more as well.

Place the highest double in the center of the table, then shuffle the remaining pieces and divide them evenly between players. (If the dominoes don’t divide evenly, place the remainder off to the side for the duration of the game.) Each player’s pieces are laid face up in front of them, so there is no hidden information. With two players you will not want to use a larger set than double-sixes or the game will drag on forever.

The player with the next-highest double plays first, and players take turns in the usual fashion thereafter. Dominoes may be played in either the horizontal or vertical direction along an imaginary grid. A newly placed domino must be placed in contact with at least one tile with a matching number of spots; it may touch any number of dominoes so long as the spots all match. The following example positions are all good:

Squares bearing the same number of pips may be placed in direct contact at right angles. No other positions  are allowed.

And these are illegal:

Examples of domino layouts that do not match the rules: connecting halfway along the side of a domino, a domino placed diagonally, dominoes with different numbers of pips touching.

You score a point if you enclose an empty space between other dominoes. Enclosure only requires all the sides to be covered; a corner may still be open:

Diagonal spaces can be open, or not; all sides must be covered.

In the extremely rare case that you have no legal moves, choose one of your dominoes to discard and place it off to the side with any dominoes that have been set aside to allow the dominoes to divide evenly between players. We have never seen this happen.

We’ll leave you to figure out the strategy yourself. Paying attention to what dominoes the other player has available, and especially what numbers they have no more of, is very important. The player with the highest score when all dominoes have been played wins. You can play multiple games if you wish.

Have fun! We expect we’ll be back with more games at some point.

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One Response to System games for fun and profit

  1. brianduddy says:

    Thanks! I love games, and already tried a couple with my tulpa. 20 Questions didn’t really work, as you said, but a couple board games were fun. I’ll try these!


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