Last year Lea Redmond and I co-designed a game/installation called Toy Chest for the SF Come Out and Play Festival. Originally we called the game Toy Fight, but found that this wasn’t putting people in an appropriately cooperative/improvisational frame of mind. The basic idea was to design a game (and installation for the exhibit) which would allow players to bring any toy they wanted to a playful contest.
The whimsical absurdity of Optimus Prime going head to head with My Little Pony motivated us, as did finding new ways to play with old toys, and meditating upon material culture. It was also a fun excuse to collaborate, since Chaim mostly makes screen based works, and Lea’s creations tend to be physical three dimensional things.
The game was exhibited at Come Out and Play SF at SOMArts. It was fun to watch children and adults alike enjoy playing the game. Board game players often fidget with game pieces while playing, which Toy Chest takes to a new level.
￼￼The basic idea of the game is that players take turns playing toy comparison cards, and the toy that wins the comparison collects the card. The game is designed to be open-ended: you can bring any toy (or toy like thing) you want to the game. (Recently, a friend of mine played with an actual banana that he said represented a telephone, which worked just fine.) It’s a very verbal and improvisational game that sometimes has you rolling toys around or singing theme songs.
Also, the game draws attention to the quality of pretend inherent to toys. Is a teddy bear really bigger than a tiny toy truck? It depends on whether we are comparing the teddy bear and toy truck, or the bear and truck they pretend to be. A toy/pretend mechanic draws out these distinctions, and adds unpredictability to and surprise to the game.
We are grateful to our many play-testers (including game design guru Stone Librande!), who helped us make the game that much better.
Lea designed and made the stamps for the wooden toy/pretend coin, and the amazing fabrics which match the card backs and adorn the stools and other parts of the installation. The amazing toy trunk comes from Lea’s collection of fabulous things. The toys in the installation were acquired from a second hand shop, and contain some real jewels. (Experience has shown, however, that the game is most fun when people bring their own toys.)
￼￼Where can you get a copy of Toy Chest? Right now, we don’t have any plans for a public release. For now, we have just a few handmade sets that we crafted in the Leafcutter Designs studio, and we might hand make a few more sets for our friends and family. In the future we might self-publish or submit the game to a publisher for consideration. If there is enough interest, we might just make the rules and cards available for download and printing. Please drop us a line if you are interested in obtaining a copy.
Update: Want a copy? We’ve uploaded PDFs you can print and cut to make yourself a deck of cards. Download Toy Chest v1, which is a zip file containing PDFs of the cards, rules, and other information. You’ll need to improvise your own toy/pretend token, but any coin should do.