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The Glass Bead Network

Here’s an interesting online game: The Glass Bead Network. A short message about this new venture appeared at the end of an email message received from my web host this evening:

Casual gaming just got a lot smarter. Players on the Glass Bead Network compete by connecting ideas in creative ways using know-how, imagination, and even the web itself to help them play the game.

How could I pass that up? I spent an hour or so checking it out and decided to sign up (free). So far, I’ve only observed others at play — it helps to watch a game in progress to get the lay of the land.

Here’s the object: each online player (a max of four people for one game) is dealt a hand of ‘beads.’ Each bead is a picture of a person, place, thing. The object is to place one of your beads on the board next to another bead to form a connection. It’s up to you to decide how the beads are connected. Once you conjure up a connection, you present it for the other players to evaluate. The other players then either approve your connection or reject it. If your connection is challenged, you may refine it until all agree it’s a valid ‘linkage.’

The hard part is that you only have a finite amount of time to make a connection that all players agree is valid (the amount of time you have to form a link is determined in the game setup). If you can’t come up with a good link, you pass to the next player. The first player to place all of his/her beads (or, if the board is filled up, the player with the least number of beads remaining in hand) wins.

I like the open-ended nature of the game. The most ingenious part of the play is that the players must form a sort of social contract to decide if a play is valid or not. This agreement-based gameplay reminds me of a philosophy book I read long ago called Infinite and Finite Games by James P. Carse.

Sidenote: I didn’t find a reference to this on the game site, but the name and inspiration for this game must come from The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse.

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