Tabletop game designer David Schirduan is about to release a new role-playing game that does something unusual: it relies on coins to move the story forward. We talked to David about his new game and how coins can be used as a storytelling device.
Past and Present (PP): Explain a little bit about your new game Clink and how coins are used in it.
David Schirduan (David): Clink uses coins as currency and as a random generator. It’s a role-playing game where each player pretends to be a Mysterious Drifter without a past. The rules of the game help all players to work together and tell a story like classic westerns, ronin films, or noir tales.
Whenever an action is in doubt the player flips a coin to see what happens. To make things interesting coins are flipped several times to provide various outcomes. Maybe you succeed at what you were trying to do, but there’s some kind of cost or setback. Or maybe you failed miserably and things are worse than you expected.
Coins are also used to make characters stronger. Drifters are created as blank characters; just like when a new character enters a scene. The audience doesn’t know anything about them. Players can spend coins to add more details to their Drifter during the game; details like: “My Drifter is an old army doctor”, or “My Drifter used to be a bandit.” These details can help the Drifters accomplish their goals and add to the story of the game.
PP: How did you come up with the idea to use coins as a mechanic in the game? Why coins?
David: Most role-playing games use dice. The last game I made used cards and I wanted to try another game with something different. Coins are simple; everyone has flipped or spent coins. They have a nice weight and feel good to play with.
As the game took shape, coins just made more and more sense. They fit the western theme. Coins keep the game simple and straightforward. They allow the game to be played anywhere; homes, bars, military bases, schools, etc.
Coins are just fun!
PP: Do you use specific coins for the game, ask players to use their own, or are the coins merely metaphorical?
David: I thought about making special coins that players would purchase for Clink, but I decided against it. Instead players are encouraged to use any special coins they own. I like to play with a one euro coin, a five rand coin, and a small medal I picked up from a yard sale. As long as it has two different faces you can play Clink with anything from beer coasters to manhole covers (Crossfit Clink!)
I like seeing picture of people playing with their own coins; it makes the game feel a little more personal.
PP: Clink includes a lot of futuristic technology in its spaghetti western setting; why did you choose to use a traditional currency like coins instead of a higher-tech credit system?
David: Originally the game was specifically for classic westerns. However I love stories like Firefly, Supernatural, or Harry Dresden; I knew I wanted Clink to be more flexible. The incredible artwork by Per Folmer blends together sci-fi, early frontier, and slight horror.
As for currency I’m sure that the Drifters in the game might use space credits or beaver skins or something. But I didn’t see the point in making players learn a new currency system. Using coins you have on hand makes the game simpler and easier to play.
PP: Finally, in your opinion, what is it about a coin flip that makes it such an iconic image in storytelling?
David: Anticipation. It reminds me of a quote from scientist poet Piet Hein:
“Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind…the best way to solve the dilemma is simply by spinning a penny. No – not so that chance shall decide the affair while you’re passively standing there moping; but the moment the penny is up in the air, you suddenly know what you’re hoping. ”
Watching the coin sail through the air, not knowing how it will land; it’s fun! Often Drifters will be trying dangerous things and having the outcome rely on a coin flip builds tension and excitement. What will happen to our heroes? How will they escape the burning ship? What’s the story behind Pearl, the new Drifter?
I don’t know. Why don’t we flip for it?