The ultimate challenge – almost.

In this post I will talk about the 18 card game contest that Button Shy Games has initiated this month. And there is still time for you to enter with a winning design – but I will assume this will be a contest with a humongous list of designers participating – and I will elaborate why.

To spark creativity in group you can make a lot of different sprint type exercises. Do an association play where you must generate new thought from one keyword. Or make reverse brainstorm where everybody should try to think about the worst possible solution – sometimes the right solution stands clear after this exercise. It is all really about setting boundaries – narrowing your mind’s playground. If you really want to generate interesting new ideas you should set a clear goal and a very confined play area. Our brains are wired to find the keys we need (In Brain Rules, Dr. John Medina, a molecular biologist, states that our brain is bad at multitasking -and prefers to solve one single task at the time).

Button Shy Games as many of you already know is a small publisher of pocket-sized games – and more particular often 18 cards. They have put out an open contest to create a game of well… 18 cards – but with the small twist that it has to be 18 IDENTICAL cards. And this is the escape room for designers. Your first thought might be impossible (mine was) – then you might think ‘uninteresting and boring output’ and in just a few moments your mind is starting to work the problem and think ‘hey it might work’.

I immediately knew I had to make at least one submission to this contest and I would not be able to work on anything else until I found at least one key. My gut feeling is that the TYPE of mechanics is very limited. And here I will present some overarching categories of play that I think the games will end up in. If you have an idea that I did not see – I would love to hear about it below.’

Variation in the same

First, let’s consider how you can create variable output with identical cards. Since you are not allowed to have ANY extra components. What features allow you to play different outcomes randomly or deliberately?

  • The front and the back – yin and yang can be used for both random binary output or a deliberate play.
  • The 4 sides on both sides (but not equal because of the card rectangular shape).
  • The corners.
  • Overlapping / Splits. Imagine an American football field on one side and an arrow on the other. Just throw one card on to the other and you will have a very highly varied output.
  • Cover up. Maybe you cover up the part of the card that you choose.

Dexterity drama

Having 18 identical cards is like 9 darts to two players. You can throw, balance or do magic tricks with them. It is the cards physical property that matters and not so much the print.

Layered experience

Just like the big title ‘Circle the wagons’ or ‘Honshu’ you can imagine that type of game where each card has a number of symbols or different areas and when you lay them down on top of each other you choose what should be covered on the cards below. Filling the cards with numerals and hiding parts of it could generate some play. This is a little hard to imagine a shared play area (scoring, who is who etc.), but hey – maybe?

Cards on rails

If you have paths on the card and maybe with a variant backside – you can create endless pattern variations if they match up when you lay them adjacent and even more possibilities if they overlap. This was probably my own first approach – I have played with interweaved track patterns in many of my other designs.

It’s a bluff

Rock, paper, scissors type games. A prisoners dilemma where the participants have the same choice of options but the outcome is determined by the combination of what is played.


You could fill words on cards and use them in some kind of party game where you ad a physical play like miming.


By combining the approaches above – there is a sea of possibilities. Probably the winning idea is something that is not one of the above. Another big part of a design is the art side, Many designers frown on this because it is (in this unpublished phase) all about the fun and the gameplay -BUT I would argue in this particular contest where all cards are identical they make a kind of art piece and emphasizing this in the design is important.

If you consider entering I would recommend to join the Button Shy Discord that Jason set up. It is clear that there is a lot of brilliant designs,

You might be wondering what my design is? My first idea was to actually cheat – and make 17 identical cards and one not identical – but almost (breaking the rules eh) could be fun. Then I remembered that the backs could be the different one. I left this idea and went for a simple bluffing game with the art in the center. Since it is not ready I will leave you with this teasing image and the title “The many-eyed dragon”.

Got a thought that is outside what I’ve talked about here? Please bring it on.

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