Clam Shell Board Game System

2 Oct

I would like to introduce the world to the Clam Shell Board Game System.

For the past year I have been on a bit of a board game binge. I’ve been geeking out and appropriately spending a lot of time on Board Game Geek. And one thing that I’ve found particularly interesting is versatile game components. Most of this is the result of owning one game and wanting a new game but not wanting to leave the house to go get a new game, so there are hoards of chess variants. There is even a chess variant called Hoard Chess. There are dozens of games you can play with a Go (Wei Qi) board and pieces.

But of particular interest to me are those game components that were designed for one game but almost immediately began being used to play others and those that were designed to be used to play several different games. In the first category are Looney Labs Pyramids, also called Icehouse pieces because that is the game they were invented to play, and SiegeStones. In the second category are piecepack, Sly, Orion, and almost everything Kadon Enterprises sells.

Well all of those run into three problems. Firstly, they cost too much. On Looney Labs pyramids page they equate the pyramids to playing cards, but you can buy playing cards at the dollar store. One “stash” of pyramids costs more than ten dollars and you need at least 3 stashes to play some of the more interesting games (Homeworlds). Most of the really good games require 5 stashes. If you’re going to play Gnostica (an amazing game, you must try it, quite genius) you’re going to blow $60 at a specialty game store and then you should probably swing by the dollar store anyway for the deck of tarot cards that you also need to play Gnostica. I don’t even know who’s making and selling piecepacks right now. It’s been released into the public domain, so maybe it’s you. You are making and selling them.

But the second thing wrong with these game systems is that they are difficult to make. In the above paragraph I complained about the cost of Loony Labs Pyramids. Well even if you make your own out of paper, 5 stashes is 75 pieces. I guarantee you can earn more than $60 in the time it would take you to make 75 little paper pyramids. You have to love craft projects, be unable to earn money, like if you are just a kid, or simply be a goof, in order to not buy them. A piecepack is not just 24 tiles numbered 1 to 6 in 4 different colors. It probably should be. But it is also 24 coins, and 4 dice and they all have suit symbols on them and the pawns don’t have suit symbols, just colors, oh and they aren’t numbered 1 to 6 they are numbered blank, ace, 2 through 5, including the die faces. And you might want to make some piecepack pyramids. They are just like Looney Labs Pyramids except they are squatter and they come in 6 sizes. You will need two sets in two different suits to play Activator (sweet game).

Actually SiegeStones doesn’t have the first two weeknesses. I think you can get it on Amazon for less than $25 (American) and I actually accidentally have a SiegeStones set. (I made my own Attangle board, and put it down next to my half finished Gounki set and a $7 bag of colored glass bits from the craft store.) But even SiegeStones suffers from the third weakness.

Games have to be written for these game systems.

Stop and think for a moment about all the different card games you know. If you’re not really into card games you probably only know Poker, Rummy, Go Fish, and War. You probably need a hand rank reference for Poker. Maybe you know Old Maid, or Spades. I can guarantee there are more card games than Icehouse games or piecepack games. If you’re really into card games, you know the dozen or so that you think are the best.

Because these game systems are all so new compared to playing cards, there are all sorts of people making up games for these systems, right now. Most of those games are not good, or are only half finished. Sure Gnostica is genius, but it also requires a tarot deck. Pikemen is a great game, but you have to play it on a chess board. In fact, knowing 10 pyramid games that you like and want to play is kind of a special thing. They have a name for it. I don’t even want to go into how many piecepack games require extra bits to work, or games that don’t use the bits that are official piecepack bits (especially the wonky dice). It would just make me sad. I may really like Activator. I may be excited to try Culture Wars. But I had to sort through boring or ill conceived games to find those, and then I had to make or gather extra bits. I don’t even know if there are 10 SiegeStone games, but at least they all use the same pieces.

So my new board game system will have none of these problems.

  1. It will be easy and cheap to acquire.
  2. If a game requires extra bits, they will be a single class of extra bit.
  3. And you will be able to play a large cannon of games with this game system that are old enough that a good portion of them will be good.

So I took a ride on my bike and quite literally picked this game system off of the ground. I call it the Clam Shell Board Game System.

Here is a picture of my new game system set up to play Lahemay Waladat.


Yes, it is just clam shells and acorns. In fact I want to encourage future Clam Shell Board Game System game designers to design games that only require clam shells and stuff to put in clam shells. But using just this, clam shells and stuff to put in clam shells, you can play all of these games. And all of these games as well.

Not all of the games that you can play with the Clam Shell Board Game System are old. Some are new.

ImageLike Cirk,

Imageor Christian Freeling’s Glass Bead Game. In fact using shells to play this game is better than a board. Pick up the shell you are seeding from, and replace it when empty. In the Glass Bead Game, you do not sow a bead into the shell from which you picked up the beads.

After I put this set together, I realized it is kind of bulky. It’s a lot to carry around. If I want to play Bao, I have to stack 32 shells, wrap them in cloth to protect them and put together a pouch of 64 acorns or pebbles or something. It’s like carrying around the spine of a dead animal. It’s big and heavy and frail.

So one night, after our evening meal, I washed these off.

ImageAcorns don’t fit in these, and I was already in the kitchen so I grabbed those whole coffee beans. The Nyumba is turned differently from the other shells in the row, but once you sow from it, you can turn it the other way. But these are easy to carry around, and a tiny plastic baggy holds hundreds of coffee beans.

I also have a personal reason for favoring clam shells over actual manqala boards. My wife has MS and she isn’t really able to scoop pieces from bowls. But she can pick up a shell, pour the pieces into her hand, and sow from there.

So I think this is the best game system yet.

I do anticipate one question.

Are you seriously hyping this stuff you found on the ground as a superior game system to whatever my favorite game system is (probably Orion, but maybe piecepack or Looney Pyramids)?

I’m partially goofing around. While all the criticism above is valid, my game system is partially good natured ribbing towards Andrew Looney and James Kyle.

But I am partially very serious.

Here’s a challenge. Go outside of your home, and go to a game store. No, go to any store. Buy a board to play Bao. This web page will still be here when you come back empty-handed. It is known as the Chess of manqala games. I have only ever seen a Bao board in a store once. It was one of those things that had been carved 60 years ago by some dude who loved Bao and he took immaculate care of it but when he died it sat in the basement of his family until they decided to sell it to some American collector who had an import shop in NYC, that sold ridiculously expensive handmade art pieces imported from Africa. I’m going to imagine that his grandkids got a good deal on the board, but it was cracked by this point.

Why should you deprive yourself of more than a continent’s worth of ludic inventivity? Are you so poor, so lacking in resourcefulness?

Here is a good example. There is a game, Imbelece, played by the Wagenia, or I suppose we could say Genyas (wa is the plural prefix, right?). There are no photos of this game on the internet. The whole internet! I suppose that makes sense. There are probably less than 20,000 Genyas. But nobody ever took a picture of people playing this game and put it on-line?

ImageI did. There are no play reports anywhere else on the internet of this game. Why? Does it suck?

ImageNo. It’s really good! As soon as you capture the first bowl you realize, this is perhaps not a good thing. And the first capture happens really quick, within a half dozen moves. The endgame has already started. Your boys have already started accumulating in the center shell. If this is your first time playing, you’re going to think that capturing more of your opponent’s bowls will help you win, but this is not necessarily the case. Capturing more of his bowls will restrict his moves, and you want that. But you will both run out of seeds.

ImageYou will run out of seeds and there is nothing that can stop it at this point. The shrinking board and the dwindling resources gives it a sort of Atlantis feel. All you need to do to win at this point is to have seeds on your side of the board when your opponent runs out.

There are hundreds of manqala games, and plenty of gems like this one that nobody seems to play. Sure there are a lot of manqala games that you can play on the standard 2 by 6 board that you can pick up pretty cheap at Target or Walmart or wherever. But there are a lot more that require a 2 by 4 board, or 2 by 5, or 3 by 6, or 4 by 7, or Cirk up there that requires 7 bowls around a central bowl. Even if you have a lathe and like woodworking making all those boards would get annoying for anyone who wants to learn about and enjoy manqala games.

So I’m kind of serious. Why am I the only person doing this? Everyone else has severe shellfish allergies? You all keep kosher and do not live near beaches? You’re vegetarians who have no craft stores that sell shells?


It was free! I got this game system as a side effect of enjoying delicious clams in white wine, butter, and garlic. The first one I got as a side effect of spending my day riding my bike to the beach and then riding through the park to collect acorns.

There are good piecepack games, Hanging Gardens, Alien City, etc. There are great Looney Pyramid games, Pikemen, Gnostica, (actually Dectana is better than Gnostica if you have more than 2 players because of the crazy stuff that players can collude on in Dectana), etc. Angry Gods for SiegeStones is a fascinating and beautiful game. But in order to get these game systems you have to sit in a workshop and make them, or worse actually go to work and do the vastly more efficient, but alienating labor of the consumer economy.

The Clam Shell Board Game System allows you to play ancient games that have almost been forgotten, and you get it by pulling it from the sand while listening to the ocean.


2 Responses to “Clam Shell Board Game System”

  1. changcai 5 February 2014 at 10:48 am #

    You might want to check out Rainbow Deck which allows you to play many games.

    • Sheikh Jahbooty 7 February 2014 at 7:24 am #

      I’ve actually been thinking about this lately, Rainbow deck or Stichlein deck. One of the things about being a stationer is that your workshop fills up with weird cardstock that you aren’t sure what to do with. So now that the front of such-and-such person’s postcards printed wrong, should I just toss them out, or can I print something on the other side, a Rainbow Deck perhaps, and spray mount a back to the cards and make a nice use out of something that I no longer have to toss to the recycler. So your vote is Rainbow Deck. But then do I want to make the newest Rainbow Deck? I really like the old ones with zodiac symbols on them. Fun stuff to think about.

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