A Guide to Making Your Own Mashups


(Whipped up by Drew Davidson)

The best things in life are mash-ups. Take food for example: Peanut Butter & Jelly; Chef Salad; Chocolate Milk; Cheese Omelets. Take two foods you like and slap ‘em together: Suppertime Mash-up!

Of course, you just can’t take two ingredients randomly and combine them. You have to have a sense for what two foods would blend well in the same pot.

It’s the same thing with board games. If you have a good understanding of games and know how to blend them, you could create some tasty mash-ups!

And you know we’ve all done it at one time. Remember “childhood”? That’s the word we give to the incubator where a toddler’s right hand and left hand come together with Frankenstein-like precision to combine two disparate toys into one plaything.

Hey, I used to do it to. I loved my Legos (a large set of basic pieces—no prefab kits) and would put them together in inventive ways to create my own Mouse Trap game, complete with race track (the individual pegs in the Legos were spaces on my “board”). The tokens?  My homemade ‘Creepy Crawlers!”

I’m still doing it today, looking for ways to enliven classics by blending them with newer games. And you can do it, too!

You could try creating games from scratch. All you need is inspiration, something that this Board Game Name Generator could provide. That may give you an idea of game types to combine. One page turned up the stimulating titles Word Warrior & Contra Dice.

Someone on Board Game Geek created a program that combined words from already published game titles. He made a list of mashed-up titles, including Zombie Armada; Totally Dice; Barber Duel; Mouse Catan; and Haunted Formula One. The latter two I would buy in a second, sight unseen….

While they may be good for inspirational purposes, nothing beats getting out all your games and pairing them off to see which ones blend. Focus on the four  main mash-up types,

1 – Games that share a common element, like cards

Our lifelong fascination with games likely began with a card game, like Go Fish! Well, a large number of modern games use a card mechanic. Why not introduce children to Ticket to Ride by telling them they can ask for—and steal—all of another player’s Blue cards!

(That would be the easiest way to build that difficult 7-card section on the Scandinavia board….)

Your first truly adult was also card-based, either Black Jack or Poker. A standard deck of cards could be folded into a game like Risk, to replace or supplement the cards that come with the game. What a cool way to gain more armies. The stronger the poker hand you turn in, the more reinforcements you get…. So, do you exchange the Two Pair, or hold out for a Full House?

2 – Games that share a common theme or purpose

This tends to be trickier, because the parts won’t naturally fit, but it will be the most soul-satisfying.

You could try mashing Chess with Twilight Struggle (and you’ll just have to put on the CD of Chess). Seriously! You can totally put chess pieces on a Twilight Struggle map!

3 – Introduce a mechanic into a game that doesn’t have it

The classic example of a successful hybrid involves combining Dice with Poker cards: Poker Dice!

“You got Dice in my Poker!”
“You got Poker on my Dice!”

4  Replace one mechanic for another

Do you normally use Dice to settle your fights? Why not use cards instead, a la Cosmic Encounters? Just take the entire card mechanic from that game, and import it into Risk. Voila! Cosmic Risk!

Now, I’m not talking about creating a variation, which is basically pairing a game with a subject from Pop Culture. For example, creating a version of Letters from Whitechapel set in the world of Penny Dreadful. (I would buy that!)

As you can see from the example of Poker Dice, the simpler the games you’re mashing, the better. That’s why you should start with the childhood classics. For example, Parcheesi lends itself well to mashing with other racing games (Cartagena, or any handicapped horse-racing game) or even pursuit games (Robo Rally, where your Parcheesi pieces are shooting each other back to base!)

Let’s go a little deeper into that first category, the Common Element. Many popular games use large-scale maps (and we’re not talking about Avalon Hill-type hex maps). The maps fall under 2 classes: Cities with paths (Power Grid, Ticket to Ride, Pandemic) and Regions with borders (Risk, Small World, Twilight Struggle). Small Risk, anyone?

Other games with interesting maps are Whitechapel (& Scotland Yard), Game of Thrones; Thurn and Taxis, Conquest of Nerath, Tales of the Arabian Nights. Also, any Ten Days release and just about every train game ever made. These are great candidates for mixing-and-matching.

I’ve used Risk as a frequent example because no other game lends itself as well to variations, house rules & mashing up. The game’s rules & game play are simple, and there are a variety of basic components: map, cards, dice, meeples. That one game provides me with most of my inspiration. So, every few months I’ll be posting rules for a Risk mash-up I’ve developed, starting with “Ticket to Risk.”

Companies are doing it, too, you know. Z-Man Games is developing a Legacy-type version (as in, “Risk Legacy”) of its popular Pandemic series. And can you even count the number of board games that have been re-imagined as card games?

Eventually, I’d like to start a Meetup in the NYC area to try out some Risk mash-ups and any others you might want to see play-tested. So, please share your ideas for mash-ups and we’ll try them out.

Tell us what mash-ups you’ve created, especially ones from your childhood—they’re the most interesting! (And don’t forget photos!!!) And if you’re in New York City, let us know if you want to get together for a Mash-up night!

I’ll be writing more articles on Mash-ups, so tell us your ideas and we’ll post those, too!

  • Anthony lives and plays games in Philadelphia, PA. A lover of complex strategy, two-player war games, and area control, Anthony is always eager to try a new game, even if he's on rule-reading duty.

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