HipBone Games is not a publishing company, nor even really a set of multiple games as it might sound. HipBone Games are the creation of Charles Cameron, an occasional contributor to Game Developer magazine and former researcher for The Arlington Institute. As a kind of role-playing scenario crafter for Y2K drills in 1999 and 2000, and as a lifelong enthusiast of apocalypse theory (which is different from, and related to, conspiracy theory), Cameron is interested in connections, and in new ways of revealing them and talking about them. Due to this and his love of games, he's part of a worldwide community devoted to the (possibly quixotic) task of realizing some of the speculations about games in Hermann Hesse's novel The Glass Bead Game.

But I'm already making this sound too complex. Here, look at this:

|\         |\
| \        | \
|  \       |  \
|   5-----10---6
|   |      |   |
|   |      |   |
3---9------4   |
 \  |       \  |
  \ |        \ |
   \|         \|

This is an ASCII rendition of the Comparisons board, one of several on which HipBone Games are played (the most popular, the WaterBird board, is on view at http://home.earthlink.net/~hipbone/WBvoidBd.html - you can try rendering that in ASCII if you want). The numbers are positions. The lines are links. On this board, it’s difficult to see that all the links that connect to a position are meant to connect – try to see it in 2D. They do all connect; this is not a 2D representation of something 3D.

Here’s the thing: into each position on the board, you play an idea.

It could be a person, place or thing. It could be an abstract concept. It could be a sentence fragment or a line from a poem. It could be absolutely anything. All that it has to be is connected, in any conceptual way, to the ideas already played into positions that are adjacent on the board. (Example: on the Comparisons board above, television has been played in position 3, and hurricanes are in position 5. It’s my turn, and I play the Emergency Broadcast System in position 9. I must explicate the links, although they’re pretty obvious; hurricanes are disasters, which the EBS is made to warn about, and television is one of the EBS’ media.)

Depending on how you want to play HipBone, you can agree on different scoring systems before the game starts. You always get a point for each direct link to an adjacent position… but you have to make those (if you’re playing into a position that connects with one already played). Some games allow for bonus points when you claim an indirect link – a connection to a move that lies elsewhere on the board. (Example: an opponent has played Emergency Broadcast Network in position 7, thereby making the game really weird. I play white noise in position 1, because a great deal of it is generated by both hurricanes (direct link in 4) and TV (position 1). But I also claim an indirect link with EBN in position 7, because white noise is the foundation of the drum machine sounds they use, and seems to be a big part of their rapid-fire video aesthetic. My opponent judges the latter justification a bit shaky, but he lets me have the point because he knows he’s about to make hay with his Don Delillo knowledge.) Some games even allow trump moves, where you replace a move already on the board if you have a move that makes more connections than the one already there.

The best games, though, are collaborative, not cutthroat. A HipBone Game is a cross between a board game and a conversation, in which the players are often encouraged to focus on the discussion and commentary on each move, rather than the game itself – or simply to treat the game aspect strictly as ritual and focus on collaborating on something beautiful.

Usually, when you write up a move, you state its title and its position on the board, and make clear which positions it’s linked to if you’re playing with indirect links. Then you write a quick passage explaining what the conceptual link is between your move and each of the already-played concepts it links to. A lot of players add move commentary if they are so, er, moved. A reasonably succinct move might be written up like this:

Move 8, Position 2: The Satanic Verses

Content: a big bad book by Salman Rushdie, feared by someone or other for some reason – I don’t remember, it was Allah long time ago.

To White Noise in position 1, due to its heft, maleness, and unavoidability in college bookstores and reading lists.

To White Teeth in position 6, because its author is also of Indian descent.

Indirect Links: To Emergency Broadcast Network in position 7, because Salman Rushdie, like EBN, was a guest on U2’s Zooropa tour.

Commentary: I’m tempted to grab a link to hurricanes (or at least to television) as well because of the effect this book had in the media. But this is an intellectual game and I do not want to appear too craven.

(The move in position 6 is a little contrived, and this example game I've been using is definitely of a competitive flavor, but you get the picture.)

By now it is probably obvious to you that the above style of move summary could be modified into something indistinguishable from an Everything2 writeup, provided that the meta-details and game boards were kept in homenodes and scratch pads. In fact, if HipBone Games were played here on E2, they would, as a byproduct, add a lot of value to the database. I’m just saying.

HipBone Theory 2900

I am going to explain a couple of the key ideas to consider when building/playing a HipBone game. The board I am going to use is simpler then the ones on the HipBones site (or in misuba's above wu). I call the board below a joint. It captures the essential problems you face when filling in a more complicated HipBone board but is easier to learn with and much easier to complete.

As misuba explains, each number is filled in with an idea. Each idea must somehow be related to whatever idea it connects to. For example,

                             1. Chicken
                            /           \
             2. Conquistador  ---------  3. Quinoa              
                            \           /
                             4. Pioneer  

The HipBones website is purposefully vague about what constitutes a good connection or a valid “idea”. In fact, the site gives very few examples of completed boards. The feeling is that the less that is said the more that players will bring to the game. While I appreciate this sentiment, there is some theory which helps when learning how to approach a board. For instance,

                               /      \
                       2.Animal   ---  3.Pet      
                               \      /
is as valid as my first example, but is systematically different from the first board.

Direct vs. Indirect connections, static concepts, and the aesthetics of HipBones.

The first joint is comprised entirely of indirect connections between the ideas. The second is comprised of direct connections. Dog connects to animal because a dog is an animal. A direct connection can be any part of the idea from which it is derived. So from dog you could connect animal, pet, tail, four legs, lassie, paws, begging, snoopy, shits in public places, is euthanized, domesticated, helps the blind, gets lost. Anything related to dogs.

Chicken connects to conquistador indirectly because they both carry disease. An indirect connection is really just two direct connections. For instance, chickens carry disease, disease was carried by conquistadors.

When you look at a board comprised of indirect connections the reasoning is not as evident as with direct connections. The board becomes a puzzle to be solved. With direct connections the board reveals itself rapidly. The choice between using direct or indirect connections is ultimately an aesthetic choice.

Another aesthetic consideration is whether you are comparing static concepts (as I have been) or the word that is written on the page. For instance, a pet is an animal toy but it is also a verb describing soft stroking.

If you are connecting based on words you could conceivably go dog - pet - soothe allowing "pet" two meanings. Additionally, the connection itself could be open to multiple interpretations while the concepts themselves remain static, allowing dog to connect to soothe indirectly based on the word pet.

How to make friends and HipBones.

All you need is a pen and some paper. You draw out a board and start filling it in. Simple as that.

The small boards I have been using for examples are much easier then larger boards and do not represent the beautiful complexity that is possible. For example, the Waterbird board contains one concept that must connect to eight other concepts, all of which make multiple connections amongst themselves. But if you don't like the HipBone boards just design your own. The Star of David has some tempting vertices.

Once you've decided whether you will be making indirect or direct connections to static or interpretable concepts you just choose a concept and put it somewhere on the board. After this brainstorm as many associations as you can with that concept. The reason you want to set out guidelines is so that the brainstorming can be more productive.

The brainstorming is why hipbones make for good conversation. It encourages you to free associate with each other. As the game gets closer to the end it becomes more challenging to add new concepts. If the board has been developing nicely you will want to rise to that challenge. And if you finish it then you have created a trip through collaborative free association that can be enjoyed by others.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.