- 1 About Carthoris
- 2 Game Inventions and Modifications
- 3 Pyramidal Play
- 4 Elsewhere in Cyberspace
Carthoris Pyramidos (terrestrially known as Matthew Rogers) is an over-educated Rabelaisian bon vivant and interplanetary knight-monk. "Verily is the Pyramid a Temple of Initiation. Verily also is it a tomb."
He entered the Academy in December 2011, and received his commission as a Starship Captain in the first week of January 2012. He acquired a fancy Volcano board to celebrate his rapid promotion to Admiral, and he is currently aboard the flagship Adocentyn, overseeing a deployment to the Bethmoora system.
His seven-year-old daughter beats him at IceDice, Martianopoly, and Treehouse, but he's the victor at Martian Chess, Gleebs and Grues, and Volcano. She has been duly advised that she can't have her own pieces until age 14, out of proper respect for the sensitivities of the European Union!
Game Inventions and Modifications
Original Pyramid Game DesignsAquarius Rising, Builders of R'lyeh, and Houses of Thoth. The fine two-handed game Tower War by Robert Dudley also belongs to this genre.
An inventory of Carthoris' original games for Looney Pyramids follows. The "P" value after the description for each of these games indicates its pyramidicity.
- Abiegnus: "Rosicrucian Volcano" on the Enochian Tablet of Union, a two-handed game with options for solitaire and divination play. P3
- Aquarius Rising: Pyramids connect the Elements to higher planes. Uses an Aquarius deck and four Rainbow stashes. P2
- Builders of R'lyeh: Constructing the city of Cthulhu -- erecting excitingly insane architecture from Pyramids. P4
- Dragonflock: Designed at his daughter's request and with her help. Two clans of dragons face off against each other, to the dismay of nearby inhabited valleys. P3
- Freimaurerei: Lodge-based conspiracy during the European Enlightenment, for two players. Needs nine stashes of pyramids, a deck of cards, a Treehouse die, an IceDice Pyramid die, and an opaque bag. P5
- Magma: Solitaire puzzle game on a Volcano board, with two-player variants. Needs twenty-five trios in a variety of colors. P3
- Quintazone-Chaser: A little game played on the arrangement constructed by Quintazone. P2
- Whack Chess: Modern chess variant with stacking pyramids and dynamic board. Playable with four monochrome stashes, four chessboard wedges, and a die. P4
- Barrakesh Express: Martian rail networks for nuclear-powered trains. (In playtesting.) P3
- Houses of Thoth: Erect mystical mansions with pyramids and Tarot cards. (In playtesting.) P3
- Martian Senet: A race through the Martian underworld. (Nearly complete.) P4
- Martianopolis 500: It's a race on Mars, with a single Rainbow or Xeno stash, a deck of cards, 12 chessboard wedges, and scoring stones. (In playtesting.) P3
- Phalanstery: A two-player game of psycho-social engineering in pursuit of Fourierist Harmony. Requires three nests each of ten pyramid colors, Volcano board and caps, and a set of double-six dominoes. (In playtesting.) P4
- Sphinx's Paw: Inspired by a story by H.P. Lovecraft. Not so much a competitive game as a tabletop simulation of an occult horror scenario. Uses a single Rainbow or Xeno stash, a conventional die, playing cards, and a chessboard. (In playtesting.) P3
Variants for Existing Pyramid Games
- Martian Efni: Efni with a Martian Fluxx deck, because Martian pyramids are cooler.
- Martianopoly Mayhem: Adds an occasional Treehouse die roll to Martianopoly, resulting in events such as Windfall, Free Canal Ride, Pay Fine, Wheel and Deal, Vacation Travel, and No Rest for the Martian. (Modifies the game by Jason Troutman.)
- Lubricated Starwheel Gnostica: A leaner method for generating "magical weather" in Gnostica. (Modifies the Starwheel Gnostica Expansion by Chris Johnson.)
- Neo-Aquarian Quintazone: Setup recommendations for Quintazone using the new, larger Aquarius deck. (Modifies the game by Doug Orleans.)
- Supercalifragilisticano: A fairly conservative Volcano variant with an enormous field of play; it's beyond "Mega." Also includes Supercalifragilisticano-Duel. (Modifies the game by Kristin Looney, following but originally ignorant of suggestions from Ryan Hackel.)
Here are some diverse design criteria that Carthoris hopes to meet in his future Pyramid game designs:
- A purely boardless game, without cards or dice or anything other than Pyramids and rules.
- A tidy 2HOUSE game.
- A smallish game that requires at least three different opaque colors. (I guess I'll have to become a piecenik in order to playtest that.)
Fairy Chess Piece Designs from Pyramids
In addition to games with original rules, Carthoris has worked up Looney Pyramid versions of pieces for some chess variants, with a special interest in occult and literary fairy chess forms which are rarely played because of the unavailability of custom pieces. These therefore benefit unusually from pyramid piece designs intended to address the lack of commercial hardware.
- Rosicrucian Chess: From the Inner Order papers of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
- Superstar Chess: A recent chess variant played on a 37-space hexagram.
- Barsoomian Jetan: From the Mars stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
- Gorean Kaissa: From the Gor books of John Norman.
- Gala: A chess-like game of early European origin.
The latter three call for a 10x10 square grid as a playing surface, but Carthoris also suggests "donkey" variants for Jetan and Kaissa played on a 96-square hexagon made up of six chessboard wedges.
In the murky past, Carthoris designed a few games that had nothing to do with Looney Pyramids.
- Frippage: A set of mechanics for table-top role playing (unpublished).
- Discordian Golf: Non-competitive subversion of small empty spaces (published by the We're Beatrice Cabal).
- Tarot Rummy: Exactly what it sounds like (published under various auspices and now at hermetic.com).
- V.I.T.R.I.O.L.: An occultist LARP system (unpublished).
Preferences and interests from a player perspective.
Starship Admiral List
Pyramid games played to date, ranked -- roughly and ambivalently -- from more fun to less, with comments by Carthoris. Games of his own design are omitted here (but see the list of them above).
- Gnostica: my "lubricated" version of the Star Wheel expansion rules.
- Martian Chess: I love the elegance of this game, and especially enjoy the challenge that it poses in breaking me of my chess-based notions about the nature of threat and defense. I prefer to play with Eeyore's delightful Chessboard wedges for the board, even -- especially, rather -- in two- and four-player games.
- Zark City 2.0: Although I learned this game first as a scaffolding for Gnostica, I now appreciate it in its own right, as a shorter, more accessible game in the same vein. My Zark City deck is one decommissioned from the casino at the Luxor in Las Vegas, so the card backs even show pyramids! I started with version two, and having reviewed the rules for the original version, I can't see why anyone would go back; the new Zark City is a clear improvement.
- Caldera: The only two-handed game I know of to require six rainbow stashes is very worth playing. It doesn't take very long at all, if the players are savvy; a dozen turns each is usually enough to get someone across the finish line.
- Volcano: I like the original Volcano a lot also. Among the variants I have played, I find Iceland Volcano somewhat disappointing, and I really like Plain Earth Volcano. Volcano is also the best solitaire pyramid game I know. The standing challenge for me is to extract all small pyramids with a minimum of other captures.
- Zendo: "The Koan has the Beastly Nature if it accords with the Master's Secret Rule."
- Martian Coasters: Good fun with a high randomness factor, but ample opportunity for deviousness. Better with three or four players than two.
- Black ICE: Looks like three-card monty, plays like Treehouse with brains. Has displaced IceDice as my daughter's favorite pyramid game.
- Moscow Ice: Very easy to learn, and still there's room for real strategy.
- Tower War: Oh, it's fun to build with cards and pyramids. I like this one almost as much as my own Aquarius Rising. Although the resulting structure is simpler, it is less stable, and the dexterity component is a significant challenge.
- Folio: The boardless variation of this super-elegant game is awesome.
- Hextris: An abstract game with robust challenges.
- Ice Age: This game is graced with a vigorous narrative concept and deceptively simple rules. Good fun.
- Lunar Invaders: Playing on the printable lunar boards was enough fun to compel me to acquire Cosmic Coasters.
- Hexano-Duel: A very solid two-player Volcano variant on a diameter-7 hexagonal grid. It's really only one stash more to erupt compared to standard Volcano, but proprietary caps for each player make it fairer and more challenging than it would otherwise be.
- Gleebs and Grues: A speedy little game where planning pays off.
- Quicksand: Sort of does for checkers what my own Whack Chess does for chess.
- Timelock: Good luck can really compensate for clumsy play on this one, but it's still fun. I especially like the effects of overlapping use of the middle rank of the board.
- Skurdir: An elegant perfect information game with a Martian theme.
- Krump: I have now played this game a couple of times, but it will certainly take some practice to play it well. The mechanics are quite novel, and it's got a fine aesthetic for an abstract game.
- Pikemen: Elegant and challenging.
- Treehouse: Elicits a surprising degree of thought for a game in which the player controls so few elements!
- Ambush: Place, but do not move individual pieces; move the Martian Coasters instead. Cleverly designed, and fun for sneaky players.
- Shapeshifter Wars: Tight little chess-like game in which piece properties vary from turn to turn.
- Branches & Twigs & Thorns: Simple, beautiful, and best played on Chessboard wedges.
- Martianopoly: More fun than "real" Monopoly. Playing on the larger square with four trees of each of five different colors was more satisfying than the basic rules. A two-player game (or a game down to its last two players) should be cut short when one player is collecting rent in all colors; to continue at that point is merely punishing the inevitable loser.
- Advanced Colonization: There's a fair bit to explore here for a boardless game with just 30 pyramids.
- CrackeD Ice: Tougher and more fun than I thought it would be. I've now added a CD to my icebox.
- Quintazone: Good fun, although the scoring phase at the end is a bit of drudgery. The Aquarius deck makes it pretty!
- Extinction: A very straightforward, highly playable, chess-like game -- far more chess-like than Martian Chess, in fact.
- Munch: A strangely-paced game with an entertaining theme of cosmic indifference.
- Tic Tac Doh!: Using a different color for each size of pyramid is de rigeur in my book.
- World War 5: Good with two players, and I'm sure it would be better with three or four.
- Plutonian Poker: Has the Spartan virtue of using pyramids and rules only. Even so, I like to use stash pads, playing on to the pads rather than off of them. Also, I made some little stack type reference cards.
- Stacktics: I've only played the three-trio-per-player "size-3" game, and for so few pieces and such a simple set of constraints, it really offers the chess brain a workout. The game plays fast -- it can be over in fewer moves than you might think.
- IceDice: Just enough genuine strategy to keep it entertaining, and the Looney-driven "moon shooting" element (i.e. Rainbow Bonus) can be applied wisely, though it tends to vanish among more cautious players with middling experience.
- Blam!: Very easy to play, but tricky to win nonetheless. Tried the "Overloaded" variation too, but didn't like it as much.
- Stawvs: I set this one up with a symmetrical four-wedge board arrangement (like I used for Pyramaze below). It seems almost pointlessly easy at first -- the endgame is where all of the consequences manifest.
- Mandala: A pretty perfect information game.
- IceFrogs: A beautiful pyramidal Chinese Checkers variant. The poker-chip board construction could be usefully adapted to Hextris and other hexagonal-lattice pyramid games.
- Pink Hijinks: Quite a game for just three trios. It can actually take surprisingly long to get to a win.
- Trice: I just adore the idiosyncratic game board for this one. Despite die-rolling, the first player has a serious edge, if he knows what he's doing.
- Ice Dao: A streamlined little four-in-a-row game on a Volcano board.
- Intersect: There was a tiny rules flaw here that we corrected during play. This game taught my daughter to count cards, as well as some rudiments of coordinate geometry!
- Kaeru: An easy IceQuarius game that plays on a relatively small surface. I prefer the "Frightened Prey" variant.
- Latent Binaries: Combines a hidden information game with an effort at blocking paths on a lattice. A clever design that may need a tweak to achieve its optimal playing rhythm.
- Squares of Detonation: Sort of a tinier mix of Volcano and Pharaoh.
- Freeze Tag: This is one that I've enjoyed with two players, but have yet to optimize with three or four.
- Efni: I only have a Martian Fluxx deck on hand, so I wrote rules to adapt it to the purpose of Efni. The result was reasonably fun with two players. I'm dubious about the game with 4-6 players, even though the original rules provide for that.
- Tic Tac Loop: Excitingly minimalist.
- Ice Colony: Grow and fight across randomized terrain on a Volcano board. It was fun with two players; three or four would probably be better.
- Twin Win: It's all about the bluffing and misdirection, so it's really only any fun with opponents who can understand and enjoy that.
- Blockade: A very backgammon-like game with the superior aesthetic values of Volcano.
- Capstone: Seems like a combination of Twin Win and Volcano-played-in-reverse.
- Pentamid: Another straightforward abstract game that seems to combine the virtues of a few others I had previously played.
- Martian Quilting: Deceptively simple; seems like it might be more fun with three or four players than two.
- Logger: A droll little game. I had fun playing it with one other player; I wonder how it would go with more.
- Pyramid Shambo: RPS is already my preferred form of magical combat, so Pyramid Shambo is a welcome method for inflating it into a sustained event.
- IceSickle: A tidy two-player game on a volcano board.
- Pyrinoes: Domino rules other than the simple draw game might make this more appealing still. A completed line of Pyrinoes is quite beautiful.
- Martian Mud Wrestling: Would probably be more fun if I played with someone in my own weight class. I didn't realize until playing it how apt the name was -- it's all about pinning your opponent.
- Pharaoh: Not a bad game at all, in the grand scheme of things. If this is so far down my list, then none of these first fifty-odd games suck!
- Albiorix: A very novel chess-like game; awfully complex. Even after two full games I still didn't know even moves for a majority of the piece types. I like it, but it's a bear to learn/teach.
- Solace: I've played this game, and I like it just fine. But I wonder whether a strictly solitaire game belongs on a Starship Captain's List.
- Chaos Checkers: The "shields" mechanism was an interesting addition to checkers, but the "potions" seemed sort of haphazard and more trouble than they were worth. My daughter likes this one more than I do.
- Pyramaze: Much easier than it looks on paper. In practice, the "maze" element didn't amount to much of a challenge: a combination of four moves was the most it took to get to any given goal.
- Hexano: Really nothing to recommend it over standard Volcano, but it's a little quicker and more limited if that's what you want. It plays better with four caps than with five.
- Egyptian Solitaire: A passable solitaire game, aptly compared to pegboard solitaire.
- RAMbots: Left me surprisingly cold. It was only a two-handed game; I think that four players would create a lot more opportunities for interference and chaos, and therefore be more fun.
- Timberland: Seemed clumsy when played on a flat Volcano board, as instructed.
- StarRunners: I played it as a training exercise toward Binary Homeworlds (which still looks very appetizing to me), but StarRunners didn't do much for me on its own terms.
- IceTowers: I've only played IceTowers a couple of times, and it never really "took."
- Ascendancy: An awful lot like IceTowers, but substituting the randomness of dice for raw speed of hand and attention.
- Ways of the Towering Tribesmen: Designed on an intriguing idea about capture (styled "suicide") through obstruction from a point of orientation, but pretty unexciting in practice. The "push" move in particular seems pointless much of the time because of the small board.
- 3-High: Not that engaging as a cooperative multiplayer game. A fairly well-constructed sort of pyramid patience, but not nearly as fun as Volcano in that regard.
- Bears, Foxes & Hares: Some clever ways to complicate what is basically a one-dimensional, die-driven race boadgame. My daughter (who is really more the "target market" here, I think) liked it a lot.
- Crosswalk: Almost one-dimensional, and yet a game.
- Invaders of Mars: Not much of a game to win, but a fun little drama. Ewwwww.
- Launchpad 23: Might be worth playing with more than two players, but not with two, really. There must be a better 2HOUSE game that could be packaged with IceDice.
- Dog Eat Dog: Seems to combine elements of World War 5 and Ascendancy without being as interesting as either of them. Not worth playing at all with two players; more players makes it better without being especially good.
- Martian Backgammon: The rules online aren't sufficient to iron out some basic ambiguities in play. Even with those items decided, I think Blockade is a far better backgammon-type game.
- Avatar War: The concept seemed to have some merit, but the game is pretty much unplayable in its present form.
On-Deck for Imminent Play
- Binary Homeworlds: This game is clearly to pyramid games what chess is to traditional board games -- the premier two-player strategy game. I also like the space operatic theme.
- Autumn Ash: A game with excessive colors!
- Wormholes: Space opera on Martian Coasters. I've tried it once with basic rules and two players, but it needs another go with more players and/or the Tag Team variant before I can decide whether I like it.
- Nile: Ancient architects are cool.
- Crystal City Catan: I like the standard (non-pyramidal) Settlers game and its expansions pretty well, and this looks like it has the spirit of the thing, even if it is limited to two players. One false start has resulted in my working up a quick-reference sheet for future attempts at play.
- Pantopia: The "Zark" genre game for Aquarius cards! I'll be experimenting with one new larger deck for two or three players, so there will be only 55 cards instead of the 80 provided by two old-style decks in the original rules.
- Igloo: A step towards Icehouse; already played one abortive game (interrupted by outside events).
- Icehouse: I don't know if I'll take to it in practice, since IceTowers didn't do much for me. But I can't deny the genealogical attraction to the fons et origo of Looney Pyramids.
- PyLiPo: I've been waiting for this one to reach playtesting readiness! Now I need to engineer a group of players for it.
- Alheimur: A pyramid game with card territories -- the deck is Aquarian, and it's about space exploration.
- Conquest of Mars: Mars needs coasters.
- Töframenn: Dueling wizards? Okay.
Carthoris doesn't have a single Icebox that can carry his whole pyramid gaming kit, instead it is distributed into various pieces. Originally, he packed all of the game rules and boards into the two massive binders MHC-65 and MHC-66. (MHC stands for "Martian High Command," not to be confused with the Terran High Command.) More recently, he has found it convenient to parcel them out into slimmer packages.
- MHC-17: Translucent plastic utility organizer with compartments containing twelve monochrome pyramid stashes (Rainbow, Xeno, Pink, and Electric Yellow) plus one additional Rainbow stash for 195 pyramids total, marking stones, 22 ELBs, assorted dice, and Zendo stones.
- MHC-25: A binder containing a deluxe Volcano board, rudimentary Mega-Volcano board, and hardcopy rules for a wide variety of games played on those boards.
- MHC-52: A binder containing hardcopy rules and play aids for pyramid games that involve various decks of cards, such as Alheimur, Gnostica, Tower War, and Zark City.
- MHC-54: A one-dollar plastic tub holding an Aquarius deck, two decks of Tarot cards, three decks of playing cards, a boxed set of transparent polyester floor cards for Builders of R'lyeh, a homemade set of Twin Win cards, goal slips for Barrakesh Express, a few Guide to Looney Pyramids booklets, a box of poker chips, small (ca. 1") toy animals for unique player tokens (cat, rat, bunny, cow, pig, baby, red dragon, purple dragon, butterfly, frog, penguin, flamingo, gorilla, kangaroo), a set of double-six dominoes, a triple-deck of Zendo cards, four sets of ICE-7, other Pyramid game info cards, and two empty IceDice bags.
- MHC-64: A binder containing a Chessboard, six Chessboard wedges, a 10x10 square Jetan board, and hardcopy rules for a wide variety of games played on those boards.
- MHC-81: A binder containing Martian Coasters, Cosmic Coasters, a CD (for CrackeD Ice), and hardcopy rules for a wide variety of games played on those boards.
- MHC-91: A binder containing hardcopy rules and custom boards for games not collected in MHC-25, -52, -64, or -81.
Divided up the way these materials are, they store well, but they aren't packed for travel. As a result, Carthoris has designed three non-overlapping routine travel kits for different purposes:
- Treehouse Plus: Treehouse bag containing one trio each of Electric Yellow, Clear, Cyan, and Pink; four more Electric Yellow queens; four more Cyan drones; four more Pink pawns; Treehouse die; conventional die; cloth Pharaoh board; and rules for Treehouse, Pharaoh, and IceSickle. Also supports Tic Tac Doh! and Ice Age.
- Zark Planet: IceDice bag containing three trios each of Red, Black, White, Clear, and Blue; a deck of playing cards; rules for Zark City; three Treehouse dice (for Black ICE) and one conventional die. Also supports Tower War (2 players). Bring along Cosmic Coasters for Lunar Invaders, and up to five chess wedges for Martian Chess.
- This Means War: IceDice bag containing Rainbow 3HOUSE set; IceDice; two poker chips and turn token (for Binary Homeworlds); Martian Coasters (supporting a host of games with the 'mids here); three white and three red dice (for World War 5--but that board doesn't fit in the bag and must come separately).
Elsewhere in Cyberspace
Carthoris can be found here: