James Wallis levels with you

I made a game for GameCamp with Lego

So we did another GameCamp. Number four in an ongoing series of games-based unconferences, the third with the current management team, and twice the size of the previous one. It feels like an age ago now but in fact it was only a month. It went really well—we relocated to the roomier and more central spaces of London South Bank University, and a quick google will bring up many happy reports and postmortems. We are chuffed.

There will be another GameCamp in the autumn but that’s not what I wanted to write about. It’s a mini-tradition that we give away neat freebies to everyone who comes to GameCamp: for GameCamp 3 (‘BoardGameCamp’) it was a pair of dice custom-engraved with the unconference’s logo and motif. And we had to find a way to top that.

What I did was… You’ve seen the Lego collectible minifigs, right? Sixteen to a series, but you don’t know which figure you’re getting till you open the pack. And very cool offbeat non-standard figures too—zombies, clowns, Mexican wrestlers, aliens, sports stars and even a dude in a gorilla suit. They are excellent.

So I went into a toy-shop and bought three hundred of them, at which point my inner eight-year-old fell over and died of joy. When I was eight I knew that grown-ups secretly did stuff like this. Now I had proved myself right. Both of me wins.

Then I designed a little game to play with the minifigs. How little? Small enough to fit on a sticky label on the front of the pack. Three rules, each one line long. And because we wanted to give people an excuse to mix and talk to strangers, it’s a social game—and because we wanted people to keep playing it, there was a prize at the end.

Here are the rules:

  1. Make deals with other players to swap a piece of your minifig for a piece of theirs.
  2. With each player, you can EITHER swap one piece OR exchange your entire minifig.
  3. The player whose minifig looks most like them at the end of the day wins a prize.

We did get some spectacularly clever and accurate entries. A couple of people threatened to wrap themselves in loo-paper to resemble their mummy minifigs, but nobody went through with it—I’d said to the committee that if anyone painted their face yellow they were getting an instant win from me, but nobody did that either. I didn’t get the name of the eventual winner but she’d come in full fantasy LARP gear complete with swords, and her minifig was spot on. Somewhere there’s a photograph but I don’t have it.

The game fulfilled its objectives brilliantly: it was an ice-breaker and conversation-starter, and people broke out of their usual groups to approach strangers on the pretext of swapping pieces, but it wasn’t so absorbing that it detracted from the main business of the day. Plus we got to be the unconference that gave away free Lego.

The only downside, really, is that we’re going to have to come up with something better for GameCamp 5.

Categorised as: game design


  1. Myles says:

    Sam is dancing round the kitchen ‘cos she said, without prompting ‘I’d paint my face yellow.’ In her mind she won GameCamp 4.

    Sounds excellent.I’m massively jealous of everyone who participated.

  2. […] Read the whole post: I made a game for GameCamp with Lego. […]

  3. […] of example games to get the participants started: Mafia, Cruel 2B Kind, Capture the Flag, Prui and James Wallis’s GameCamp minifig game. We also played a game of Ninja Tag to warm up. I’d like to think this underlined the idea […]

  4. […] There’s a tradition at GameCamp that we always give out a neat game-related freebie on the door. As time has gone on we’ve specifically tried to find items that will act as ice-breakers and will encourage attendees to talk to strangers and—even better—play games against them. Last year everyone got a random Lego minifig with a three-line game attached: I blogged about it here. […]

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