Rambling Sprawl Estates

Due to the troubled economy on Mars, you’ve decided to break into the Earth pizza market. You’ve developed an assortment of brands that are nontoxic and nicely inconspicuous…you think. The next step is to test-market your wares in a controlled area where you can closely observe the results.

Thus, you have dispatched families of Martians to construct an Earth Suburb to attract humans. Each Martian family will then live in the suburb, masquerading as humans, and sell pizza to the Earthlings.

Your marketing division has developed a scheme for laying out and naming streets that’s guaranteed to produce a suburb with Earthling appeal.  Just find a flat surface, start building, and let the Earthlings move in and start buying pizzas!


That’s the pitch for a deck of cards I designed, which can be used to build a map of a suburban area.  That’s a fun puzzle, but everybody who sees it wants to play a game on the finished map.  The question is, what’s the game and what are the rules?  I’ve been banging my head against this question for years without results, so for this week’s backwards edition of Works-for-Me Wednesday when writers ask how to get something to work, I’m asking the Internet, How do I get this game to work? You can print out the tiles and booklet here for FREE, but if you want to start by reading and thinking about the game without downloading anything, here’s the part of the booklet about the game ideas we’ve had so far [with bracketed notes on a few things I’ve thought of since writing the booklet]:

What is Rambling Sprawl Estates?
By shuffling these tiles, then placing them one at a time in a grid formation, following the Layout Rules, you can build a map of a charming Earth Suburb.  The process of laying out the map can be a relaxing puzzle or a competitive game.  Once you’ve built your sprawl, you can play the pizza-selling game, in theory….

A “beta test” is an opportunity for customers to contribute to the development of a new product before its official release. In the case of Rambling Sprawl Estates, you can help to design the game!  We think building sprawl is fun, and delivering pizzas seems like an interesting way to use the resulting map.  But the pizza-delivery game’s rules are not complete. Rather than keep working in isolation until the game is perfect, we decided to release the deck (with temporary art) so that you can enjoy the layout phase and help us figure out how to make the game as much fun as building the sprawl!

So bulldoze the clutter off your table to make way for suburban development. Experiment with our rules or any others you’re inspired to create, and send your ideas, suggestions, or comments to us at sprawl[at]efran[dot]org or post a comment here.

Get out there and sell some pizza!

Uh oh. The home office forgot to send the manuals for the pizzerias. Good thing you took notes during mission training!  Here are the ideas you’re starting with:

  • Use the versatile pyramids from Looney Labs to represent your pizza-delivery vehicles. They are the right size for the streets and come in colors to match the pizzerias. If you don’t have pyramids, though, use some other type of game pieces.
  • Each pizzeria has 3 vehicles of different sizes, with different movement abilities:
  • The large van moves up to 6 tiles per turn (has 6 movement points).  Its pizza capacity is limited only by the number of pending orders (see below) [or could be limited to 3].  Getting out of the van to deliver a pizza takes 1 movement point.  Reversing direction takes 2.
  • The medium-sized car is the same as the van except that it can hold only 2 pizzas and takes only 1 point to reverse.
  • The small bike can move 3 tiles per turn and carry 1 pizza.  It can cut across parking lots anywhere non-residential tiles touch and can drive through Sprawl-Mart, up/down the steps, and across any vacant lot completely surrounded by tiles.  It cannot drive across lawns or jump off the bridge.
  • Use small tokens or bits of colored paper to represent the pizzas. [or just carry the pizza order slip with the vehicle holding that pizza]
  • Cut up the list of street and business names; these are the locations of pizza orders.  [The most recent idea I tried was using the order slip to represent the pizza.  That makes each pizza specific, so that it must be delivered to the customer who ordered it.  That changes the next 2 bullet points: Any driver may pick up an order from any pizzeria.  Since the pizzas aren’t interchangeable, there’s no way to put too many into circulation.]
  • On her turn, each player receives an order.  [Alternatively, at the beginning of each round 2 or 3 orders are received by pizzerias randomly selected by rolling dice.]  If she hasn’t filled the order by the end of her turn, another pizzeria may fill it—the customer won’t notice until after paying for it!  The player who fills an order keeps the slip of paper representing it.
  • When a vehicle leaves its pizzeria, it may carry a number of pizzas that (a) does not exceed its capacity and (b) does not cause the pizzeria’s fleet of 3 vehicles to be carrying more pizzas than the number of pending orders.  For example, if 3 orders for 1 pizza each and 1 order for 2 pizzas are waiting to be filled, a pizzeria’s fleet may carry up to 5 pizzas; if its bike is carrying 1 and car is carrying 2, when the van refills it may take only 2 pizzas.
  • Pizza(s) may be transferred from one vehicle to another if both vehicles are on the same tile and each uses 1 movement point for the transfer.
  • The bike can be transported in the van if there is no more than 1 pizza in the van.
  • Only the bike can deliver a pizza on the steps.
  • Might there be some action cards?  Maybe you draw one each time you return to your pizzeria.

[The biggest stumbling block for this game is how to make it competitive and interesting, instead of just a realistic simulation of having a job delivering pizzas!  You need some way of interfering with your competitors’ deliveries.]

Maybe there’s more to life than selling pizzas.
Games with other themes could be played on this map. You might try a game of Martian family life in which you enhance your Earth camouflage by engaging in Earth customs: Transport your children to enriching activities, and buy them shoes without getting mired in the nearby toy store. Let your teens rack up social points in the pizzerias, arcade, and newsstand, but make sure they get to the library and orthodontist. Get all your offspring to school on time!  Send two of your adults to work at Develocorp and The Mall while the other runs errands.

Here are some hints for family management:

  • A typical Martian nuclear family is 3 adults, 3 teens, and 3 children.  Use pyramids, one color per family, to represent family members.
  • Each family’s home is on the tile corresponding to the family name: Red=Apple, Orange=Fox, Yellow=Golden, Green=Green, Blue=Lake, Purple=Berry, Cyan=Brook, Magenta=Flower, Clear=Hollow, Black=Shade, White=Marble, Gray=Stone.
  • Each adult’s minivan is capable of transporting all 6 offspring.  (Turn a large pyramid on its side for driving, and nest the offspring inside.)  The number of tiles each van can move per turn is 10 minus the number of offspring in the van.  Dropping off and/or picking up offspring uses 1 movement point.
  • Teens may walk 3 tiles per turn.  Their movement points may be used (instead of their parents’) for getting into and out of vans.  They can cut across parking lots anywhere non-residential tiles touch, through Sprawl-Mart, up/down the steps, and across any vacant lot completely surrounded by tiles.  They cannot walk across lawns or jump off the bridge.
  • Children are not allowed to walk anywhere.  What, do you want them to get molested by an Earthling?!
  • Set a number of turns to represent the school day, a number for the work day, and a number for the entire day.
  • Your family’s final goal for the day is to get all your family members home along with a pizza picked up from the pizzeria of the same color.

How can this become a competitive game, rather than a tedious process of parallel accomplishment? If you have any great ideas for actions or other tweaks that make the game more fun, please tell us.  We hope you’ll have some good ideas!  Send your suggestions and comments to sprawl[at]efran[dot]org or post a comment here.

Tile concept and design by ‘Becca Stallings
Alpha deck refinements by Alison Frane
Beta deck art by Dan Efran
Copyright ©2007-2009 Rebecca Stallings.  All Rights Reserved.

Thank you for helping!  If you find that you love Rambling Sprawl Estates as a puzzle but have no idea what game could be played on the map, I’d be thrilled to hear from you anyway!

3 thoughts on “Rambling Sprawl Estates

  1. Pingback: How to Do Everything! « The Earthling's Handbook

  2. Pingback: Try my card game! « The Earthling's Handbook

  3. Pingback: Welcome to Earth Suburb. « The Earthling's Handbook

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