The Flip of a Coin



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.


388b70f4d61f8a3af6f3cf7c176a1a96_originalPast 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!




762818b5686849e32762e1ea335a466e_originalPP: 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.



95111d1d95b9383acd25323022c24808_originalPP: 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?



You can find David on Twitter, and check out Clink on the Kickstarter page. Looking for some special coins to play Clink with? Check out our selection!

Kick the Can

There are several simple games children play today that their Grandparents were backyard champs at – kickball, hide n’ seek, hopscotch; but one that seems frozen in the past is Kick the Can.  Remembered as a vintage game, not many children nowadays really know how to play.  You’d be an odd child out if you didn’t know how to play Kick the Can eighty years ago.  For those of us under the age of forty, I’ll lay out the rules:

The objective is simple.  Kick the can and don’t get caught!  A can is filled with rocks and set in the middle of the game area.  Like tag, or hide n’ seek, one player is designated “it” and the other players run and hide while the “it” player closes his eyes and counts.  When the “it” finds the hiders, he calls out their names and they must race him back to the can to kick it far into the air first.  If the hider beats the “it” person, he returns to hiding while the “it” retrieves the can, counts and begins searching again.  But if the “it” person wins the race to the can, the hider is sent to an allocated “jail” area, near the can.  Other players hiding may rush out to kick the can at any point, freeing the imprisoned players!  The game ends when “it” wins, capturing all the hiders, or when a hider kicks the can over.


The origins of the game are like many antiquated practices, imprecise.  It is fondly remembered as a popular game during the Great Depression. Because of limited extracurricular resources and abundance of children in the neighborhood, it seemed only natural for kids to grab a paint can from the trash, fill it with rocks and participate in hours on end of unfacilitated playtime.  During these difficult economic times, the kids seemed to have the right idea – making something out of nothing.  Not requiring any designated materials or playing field, Kick the Can was the perfect pickup game that has been lost somewhere in oral teaching along the way.

Perhaps kids of today could take a lesson in unplanned playtime.  In his book “Children at Play: An American History (2007), Howard Chudacoff discusses the importance of unstructured play, referring to the early 20th century as the ‘golden age’ of kid’s free play.

At the turn of the 20th century as child labor decreased, kids had a lot of free time on their hands – freedom to play from dawn ’til dusk, to read comics and to explore their world in whatever way satisfied their fascinations.  However, with the increasing priority of education, extracurricular activities became less significant and more structured as adults realized their responsibility in nurturing a balanced growing person.  Adult involvement in free time inevitably led to more structured play, as adult-directed sports replaced pickup games.  Simultaneously, parents worried about their children playing with other neighborhood kids unsupervised, as parental control became a topic of concern.  Today, though we realize the need for children to play, society has entirely limited kids’ ability to play and explore in their own chosen ways.

Though antiquated, perhaps we could all learn from a little game of kick the can.  Like organized sports, these types of outdoor, movement-oriented games are beneficial for both the mind and body.  Next time you’re outside, give it a try!

The Game of Dr. Busby

What made card games and board games so popular? Most agree that the game to blame was “Old Dr. Busby”, a card game from the mid-19th century that swept the nation.

A miss Anne W. Abbott from Salem, Massachusetts designed the game. Abbott, the daughter of Reverend Abiel Abbott, designed a number of games in her lifetime that were quite popular in their time. But Dr. Busby was the first and undoubtedly most popular.

Published in 1843, the game came in a gold cloth case with yellow printed instructions and four sets of five cards, each in different colors for each family category. This was before mass printing was created, so the cards were hand colored.

Here are the rules (courtesy of

“The starting player begins by asking the player on his right for any card not in his own hand. If that player has the card he calls for, he gives it to him and the starting player may call for another card and so on until he calls for a card which the player doesn’t have. Then the next player takes his turn, but must first call for those cards which have been called for and obtained by the first player. Thus it becomes a game of memory since any incorrect call ends a turn. When a player has called every card from the player on the right (thus putting that player out of the game), he may continue to call from the next player on the right. At the end of the game, the winner will have successfully called all the cards into his own hand.”

The game sold 15,000 copies in its first eighteen months.

Parker Brothers bought the rights to the game in 1887 and the company emphasized the game as the “first published game in America”.

You can still find decks of Dr. Busby, though often some cards will be missing. What better way to participate in history than to play a game of Dr. Busby?

Bet You Didn’t Know The Origin of Basketball

On one fateful day in 1891, Dr. James Naismith needed a way to keep his students busy indoors during the cold winters. He came up with the rules for an indoor game played with a soccer ball and a peach basket nailed onto the wall. The number of people on each team was determined by the number of students in Naismith’s gym class. The game eventually evolved into basketball, the only major sport invented in the U.S.

Basketball rules evolved over time. When the game first started, the basket had a bottom and the ball had to be removed manually each time. The original game had no dribbling, either; dribbling was only introduced in the 1950’s when the ball had become a more uniform sphere.

Naismith claimed that he based the rules of basketball on the children’s game “Duck on a Rock”.


You can buy this postcard here!

These are the original rules of basketball, penned by Dr. James Naismith himself (source):

1. The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.
2. The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands.
3. A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man who catches the ball when running at a good speed if he tries to stop.
4. The ball must be held in or between the hands; the arms or body must not be used for holding it.
5. No shouldering, holding, striking, pushing, or tripping in any way of an opponent. The first infringement of this rule by any person shall count as a foul; the second shall disqualify him until the next basket is made or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game. No substitution shall be allowed.
6. A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violation of rules three and four and such described in rule five.
7. If either side makes three consecutive fouls, it shall count a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the mean time making a foul).
8. A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there (without falling), providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edges, and the opponent moves the basket, it shall count as a goal.
9. When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field of play and played by the first person touching it. In case of dispute the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in is allowed five seconds. If he holds it longer, it shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire shall call a foul on that side.
10. The umpire shall be the judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify people according to Rule 5.
11. The referee shall be judge of the ball and shall decide when the ball is in play, in bounds, to which side it belongs, and shall keep the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made and keep account of the baskets, with any other duties that are usually performed by a scorekeeper.
12. The time shall be two fifteen-minute halves, with five minutes rest between.
13. The side making the most points in that time is declared the winner.

Playing with Marbles

The kids of yesteryear loved their sidewalk games, and the game of marbles was a favorite.

Unlike today’s machine-made glass marbles, antique marbles were not a uniform roundness. Instead, they were handmade, picked out from clay and rolled into shapes as close to perfect spheres as possible.

Sometimes, factory workers made marbles for their children with supplies available at work.

This allowed for each and every marble to be unique.

Most antique marbles were made in the late 19th and early 20th century. The first factory to make marbles was owned by C. Dyke in South Akron, Ohio in 1884. Unfortunately, the plant was built right next to the railroad, and passing trains caused large fires in the factory, destroying everything except for the kilns, putting the factory in an idle state until it was bought by new owners.

The new owners refined the process for making marbles. They used one machine to grind clay, one to cut it, then another to roll the clay into balls. Kilns fired the tiny balls and then they were dyed. The marbles became popular, but prone as the factory was to fires, it burned down again between 1906 and 1910.

Of course, this was just the start of manufactured marbles.

Antique and vintage clay marbles never fail to have character. Some have solid color, some have mixed; some are smooth, some have bumps and ridges either from their manufacture or from play.

Glazed clay marbles are often called Bennington: even though they actually have no relation to the Bennington company, they have a similar appearance to the blue and brown Bennington pottery.

Do you remember playing with marbles as a kid? There are tons of fun games and activities to do with marbles that keep kids occupied for hours. These games were especially popular in the early 20th century.


This is a fun and popular marble game:

Draw a circle on the ground, with about a two foot circumference.

Put a marble in the center.

The first player rolls or shoots another marble to hit the marble in the middle. If he misses, his turn is over.

The next player aims for the middle marble.

If either shooter hits the middle marble, he wins and keeps all the marbles in the ring.

The winner puts a new marble in the middle and the game starts again from the first step.

Did you play with marbles as a kid? What was your favorite game?