First Attempts at Squaring the Circle

After designing dozens of games, many of which are experimental or otherwise exploring underutilized design space, I have disabused my self of the confidence that when first tested that my games will be functional or even just fail to crash and burn. That said, it is heartening when a game shows surprising strength beneath its clumsy assembly. Which is exactly what happened with my attempts at a solitaire variant on Squaring the Circle.

Squaring the Circle took a long while to turn from an idea to a game which I can test. At its earliest roots, the idea of high octane mathematician adventure comes from some running gags back in college (I was, among other things, a mathematics major). Later on I was struck by the parallels between the structure of a heist and the genre of a mathematical proof. In many ways a mathematical proof is a story which demonstrates how some claim is true. More complex proofs are often like complex stories with twists, surprise returns, and a certain drama.

My first few stabs at the game didn’t gain traction. Then, after Apocalypse World came out and folks started hacking it, I thought about how to join a mathematician playbook with a thief playbooks and I had a place to start. Squaring the Circle aggressively innovates on the Apocalypse World chassis by being MCless, by using a House of Complications, Antagonists, Risks, and Debts (CARDs) mechanic, and by structuring the goals of play into theorems and proofs. Those are enough untested systems to worry me. Still I prepared to run a group playtest when I could talk one of my regular groups into it.

After some discussion at story games, I realized that Squaring the Circle is one of the games I’ve design which are not just decentralized, but plausibly capable of solitaire play. Given, I decided to test it on my own before taking it up with a group.  After that test, I found the Squaring the Circle’s theorems and CARDs make a tense heist story and an exciting play experience. I was worried that it would fall flat, but now I know there is something worth building and refining. And that is a splendid feeling.

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