Cardboard Children – Sadness: Into The Rays

Hello youse.

“Sadness: Into The Rays” is an indie board game, with an intended print run of 10. I’m lucky enough to have a copy, and I’d love to show you some pictures of it – but I can’t. Right there in the manual, on page three, it says this – “The designer asks that you do not share any images from this game. Your personal copy is yours, and yours alone. You may talk about Sadness, and relate your experiences with Sadness. But please do not share any images of Sadness with anyone else.”

Needless to say, Sadness: Into The Rays is a solitaire game. I review it here today.

SADNESS: INTO THE RAYS

When is a game a game? It’s not something that comes up often when talking about tabletop gaming. It’s something we talk about a lot with computer games. Many computer games, as they explore more narrative experiences, start to detach from the concepts of play. But tabletop games rarely do that. They rarely offer up experiences that are purely experiential. Sadness is different.

Sadness: ITR arrives inside a plastic baggie. The contents are a rulebook, a paper “map”, a few counters, some cards and a single die. There is no colour in the print. It is monochrome, rough and ready, like a fanzine printing. There were, inside my copy at least, some flower petals. There is another little booklet inside that I’m not allowed to tell you about. I think I can say that it offers some bizarre, surreal variants to the experience of the game.

Is it a game? Yes, I believe it is. As much as any experience is.

THE MAP

Let’s start with the map. It’s a map of a town, that much is clear. There are streets and houses, all of them named and numbered. There are spaces for movement, and one of the counters is a small cardboard square that has “YOURSELF” written on it.

At the top of the map, there is a section called “THE RAYS”. I’m not sure what it represents, but there are movement spaces there too, and illustrations of birds and animals, flowers and trees. Clouds. It’s some kind of “heavenly” space, perhaps. There are spaces for named sections there, too. But the rules tell you that you should fill these spaces in yourself (directly from the rulebook, this): “Name The Rays in a manner that feels correct for you as an individual. Use pen, not pencil, and write from the heart.”

I’ve named my Rays, but I don’t think it’s important to tell you the names I chose.

The games is broken up into three phases.

TRAVEL
VISITS
THE THINGS YOU TAKE AWAY

TRAVEL is movement, and a die roll will tell you how far you can move. You can move freely through the streets of the town, but buildings need to be waited at, and can only be entered in the VISITS phase. There’s no way to go to The Rays during the TRAVEL phase. That’s the interesting thing. It’s on the map, but you can’t go there.

In VISITS, you consult the rulebook for the buildings you’re waiting at. Each building has a paragraph describing who lives there, in some detail. Strangely, there is both backstory for the people living or working in the buildings – and information on how they live and how they die. There are a few charts for each building called “Visit Grids” and you choose which grid to encounter, and make a die roll. You cross reference the result and find out what happens. I’ll give you an example.

I visited the Lavender Blue Cafe. Inside there worked a woman called Daphne Morgan. She was 32 years old, single, and Lavender Blue was owned by her mother. Her mother had recently passed away. Daphne loves to read. She has two cats – one is called Pepper and the other is called Pip. It’s weird how much of this I remember. I’m not checking the book as I write this. Daphne was writing letters to a man from Your Town (this is mentioned a lot in Sadness – “Your Town” – you’re a visitor, you see…) and she felt like she was falling in love with him.

One of the Lavender Blue Grids allowed me to have a coffee. But another one allowed me to “Ask Daphne How She Feels Today”. I chose that one and made a roll. The result was a 5, and the grid told me that Daphne told me she was “feeling quite alright.”

Once you make a visit, make a choice, and make a roll – you enter the THINGS YOU TAKE AWAY phase – where you can either DRAW or REDRAW a card. Here’s the clincher. The cards are blank. If you draw a card, it’s blank. And there are only ten cards in the game. But the rules tell you that you can write upon the card in pencil and “using knowledge you have gained during your visit, apply story, instruction and a modifier.” You can write some information about Daphne on the card, in as much detail as you want, and then apply a die roll modifier. Why do you want to apply a modifier? Well, the die only rolls up to a 6. And the grids all have 18 results. When you REDRAW a card, you can erase a card you already have from previous plays of the game and create a new one.

Only ten cards, remember. You can only fill out information and create modifiers for ten people that you visit, then it’s all a do-over. The information that you learn? You’re almost creating that by yourself.

On those visits – not all of the buildings are occupied. Some of them are empty. And the rulebook tells you that you should move people into them. This means you create your own stories, writing them into the rulebook, and building your own grids. It even suggests that you move yourself in, and try to “visit yourself regularly.”

THE RAYS

I have no idea how or when you’re supposed to move up to The Rays. There’s nothing in TRAVEL for it, and nothing in VISITS. But there is a section in the rulebook called “Into The Rays” and it tells you to “…move into The Rays when the time is right. There are no grids, cards, or die rolls here. But moving Into The Rays is a form of visitation, and you should take time to consider your visit and understand the things you take away.”

SUMMING UP

Sadness is a deeply odd, and deeply emotional game. It’s a world you build by yourself, and you use simple mechanics to explore the world, creating most of your own rules as you go. When you move Into The Rays, the experience is like a form of meditation. You stop and think about who you’re visiting, and why. You don’t draw any cards or write any stories on them, but you think about what you learn from each of the Rays you named or created.

That booklet I can’t tell you about? The one with the variants? It moves Sadness further into the real world, incorporating elements of your approach to the game into your approach to life.

Sadness feels like a place. Like something you’ve imagined. It’s a kind of make-believe. It’s certainly play. But it’s also a process of discovery. But then, isn’t that what much of play is?

NEXT TIME

Back to the mainstream, with a review of something more conventional. And then, soon after, the indie sector again – and my review of the incredible Cave Evil.

52 Comments

  1. mgardner says:

    I hate to be “that guy,” but why are you telling us about a game that none of us will ever see or acquire (print run of 10!)? Seriously, I typed the title of the game into Google, and this article is the only reference to the board game that came up on the first page. It comes across as “Nyah nyah, look what I have that you don’t” but surely that’s not the point you’re trying to make?

    • christmas duck says:

      I’d say that’s exactly why it IS worth writing about. It’s an interesting and extremely small scale project that no more than 10 people would know of otherwise, but now you know and so do I and whilst mileage is going to vary a heck of a lot I definitely got something out of reading about the fact that this game exists.

    • jomurph86 says:

      Hello, “that guy”. :) Don’t worry, I could be wrong, but the tone of the article doesn’t suggest to me like Rab is deliberately taunting you. It’s more like, “Hey! There are unique and interesting things out in the world and here’s one of them. Isn’t our hobby grand!”

      Anyhoo, sounds like a poignant experience. The way you talk about it reminds me of the free print and play game: …and then we held hands.

      Here’s a link to the files for anyone who is curious: link to boardgamegeek.com

      • SgtStens says:

        That link actually goes to the files for “…and the we held hands,” a two-player cooperative abstract card game about mending a failing relationship. Definitely hits some of the same notes, but a completely different game. I couldn’t find anything on BGG about this one, though.

    • oatmeal2k says:

      I read the article less as a “buy/don’t buy” kind of review, and more as Robert telling us about an experience he had – which seems rather in keeping with the theme of the game.

      His experience with it wouldn’t have been yours or mine anyway. Just like any other life experience, man…

      • Tacroy says:

        yeah, honestly I’m about as likely to play this game as I am most of the others featured on Cardboard Children (or, let’s be honest, RPS itself).

    • meepmeep says:

      A world in which people could only recount experiences directly available to their audience would be remarkably devoid of media, journalism and literature.

      • mgardner says:

        Thanks to everyone for your responses. It is true that I come to RPS expecting articles of the variety, “here is something I enjoyed, maybe you would like it too.” Perhaps this was why an article about an unobtainable game was so jarring to me. It’s good for me to be exposed to others with broader minds than mine.

    • Dare_Wreck says:

      I have to admit that that was my first thought as I read through this article, too. I don’t share the same vitriol that some others have posted in the comments here, but I do wonder why this was posted on RPS, rather than, say, the author’s personal blog, if we the audience can’t ever play it, nor see what it looks like.

    • Deano2099 says:

      I think it’s pretty cool to share with people an experience they can’t otherwise have, I mean that’s the point of a whole lot of writing and I totally support that. Shame it’s not what has happened here though, instead of telling us about the whole experience, bits have been held back at random at the request of the game creator and so we don’t have that, we have this disjointed mess of an article instead.

      That said, I’m kinda with the guy who said the whole thing is a made up flight of fancy, the game only existing as a concept in Rab’s head.

    • MondSemmel says:

      I agree. Limiting things as a creator is one thing; supporting this stupidity as a journalist is another.

      Don’t become complicit by supporting practices like that.

  2. Stackler says:

    I can admire the game in itself, but the “limited” run and the “do not share”-instructions sound like pretentious wank.

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      Wisq says:

      They also sound incredibly greedy. Like, “only we elite few can have this experience, nobody else”.

      Sure, the fact that you’re playing something almost-unique can perhaps enhance your enjoyment of it. But it still deprives the rest of the world of having any enjoyment at all, and so it’s still a net reduction in overall enjoyment.

      In a modern world where digital pioneers try to ensure that content is free and available to all, and greedy corporations are the ones trying to create artificial scarcity in order to line their pockets, this falls clearly towards the latter side, even if the motivation isn’t money.

      Why hoard things when we can so easily share them? It just feels morally corrupt.

      • leeder krenon says:

        there is an almost infinite amount of entertainment / media / things out there in the world for you to consume, it seems peculiar to get upset about the occasional item that is unavailable to you. if this article hadn’t been written you probably wouldn’t know this thing even exists.

        i hope that every single thought and idea you have ever had is available for me to consume on the internet, because going by your logic it would be so mean of you to keep them to yourself.

        • anHorse says:

          Yeah but we’re on a consumer website not some niche philosophical blog

          This whole article is just part of Rab’s continued efforts to see if his head can go so far up his arse that it comes out the neck again.

          • Ada says:

            You’re implying that reading in-depth criticism of mathematical constructs that represent possible experiential spaces isn’t a niche philosophical exercise?

    • wraithgr says:

      This is exactly what I thought when I got to the point where the player is asked to “name the rays in a manner appropriate to yourself”. Pretentious.

      Rab, I didn’t read the article after that. It sounds like an experience that’s not for me, anyway. Seems the author of the game agrees, otherwise why only make 10?

      As others have said, there’s so much more worthwhile stuff out there and I’m so unwilling to spend more time on this that I’m unlikely to finish another

      • iucounu says:

        Seriously though, ‘pretentious’. What the pretence?

        • wraithgr says:

          Pretentious (adj.) Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance or merit than is actually possessed.

          What is the pretense? That anyone should care about an experience that was artificially limited to 10 people for the sole purpose of contrived scarcity.
          “Hey, I made up this game, you’ve probably never heard of it…”
          Damn right, because it’s not worth hearing about.

          • iucounu says:

            But you don’t have any idea of what merit the game possesses. Perhaps the scarcity is fully justified by the nature of the experience. It feels more like you’re irritated by the way it’s been published and have concluded it’s no good on that basis.

    • iucounu says:

      What do you feel the pretence is?

  3. Dorga says:

    Maybe the point of it it’s that we can make our own version of the game. It’seems to live much to the player as is.

  4. Nimdok says:

    I don’t mind being that guy; share this thing. Scan it and share it. I don’t care about your social contract with the creator, if you have something that’s limited it’s your duty to provide it to the masses.

  5. DrCop says:

    This is 25% interesting & unique, and 75% insufferable. Print run of 10? No pictures? Get real.

    • sebmojo says:

      I don’t mind being that guy; share this thing. Scan it and share it. I don’t care about your social contract with the creator, if you have something that’s limited it’s your duty to provide it to the masses.

      Rab’s made clear he’s not going to share it, as requested, but there are only 9 other people with a copy, make it your life mission to track them down and convince them to share it.

      This is 25% interesting & unique, and 75% insufferable. Print run of 10? No pictures? Get real.

      Yeah, it’s p much peak hipster. But really – what would seeing a picture add? It’s clear what’s in there, and you can probably fill in the gaps easily enough.

      This was a good post Rab, thanks for sharing.

  6. thekelvingreen says:

    One of the things about board games is that they often go out of print, even the good ones, so it’s not uncommon to see an enthusiast being enthusiastic about something you can’t buy; how many of Rab’s top fifty games from last year are unavailable? Does that make that series of posts and videos invalid?

    I don’t think so.

    • qrter says:

      There is a difference between creating something to be OOP on purpose, and because of economical reasons (as in: nobody wants to invest money into printing more copies). I mean, a game becoming OOP might elevate its status, but it’s by accident, not by design, as is the case for this game.

      I think it’s great Rab wrote the review – who cares that I’ll never be able to play it, it’s interesting enough to hear from someone who has had the chance. And Rab wouldn’t have wanted to write about it if the game hadn’t made an impression on him.

      • qrter says:

        Forgot to say – this is what true criticism is about, it goes beyond just writing about what is available to everyone, it is also exploring the ‘outer reaches’, if you will.

      • thekelvingreen says:

        Yes, my point is that the unavailability of a game — for whatever reason — is no reason not to tell people about it if it’s remarkable.

  7. Gothnak says:

    Maybe this is just an experiment and this game doesn’t exist at all and Rab is seeing how you all react. Anyway, i hope that is the answer as that is slightly less pretentious than a game with a print run of 10 :).

    Tbh, any RPG adventure run with your friends is for only 6 players and often no one else will ever experience the characters, rooms and situations you encounter. Maybe someone just invented a single player RPG experience and then sent it to a few (famous in the games scene) people to make themselves feel important?

    • J. Cosmo Cohen says:

      That’s basically my thinking. Although I also thought perhaps the creators of it are testing the waters to see how people respond, and may or may not make more copies based upon this. Of course, that’s probably the optimist in me.

  8. jomurph86 says:

    Alight… Why oh WHY does a print run of 10 have to be “hipster” or “pretentious” or “greedy”? The game sounds like a highly personal creation that some creative work-a-day Joe (or Jane) whipped up and decided to share with some select friends/individuals. Given the costs of printing, and the fact this is a personal project and not a commercial endeavor, a “limited” print run is perfectly reasonable (I’ve printed a few games through PrinterStudio and it ain’t cheap!) This is conjecture, of course, but if assumptions must be batted about, why not first assume something positive (and plausible) than disparaging?

    …additionally, reread the article and it also brought the Bob Ross Remix to mind :) “This is your world, you’re the creator, find freedom on this canvas” link to youtube.com

    • ikehaiku says:

      Because of the “do not share any images from this game. “.
      Here, it is clearly not a case of “printing ain’t cheap, I can’t afford more”, but “Look, look, look how clever I am, I’m an artist, damn it”.
      Beside, Robert is not a friend of the creator anyway – or at least, I most certainly hope so, since it’s not stated in the article.

      Add to that that “do not share any images from this game.” is in complete contradiction with the following sentence “Your personal copy is yours, and yours alone” – because if a thing is mine and mine alone, I should do what I see fit with it.

      Granted, the creator has every right do whatever he wants with his creation. Reciprocally, what should have every right to assume things about it.
      Of course, that may be the entire point of the game – in that case, hats off!

      • jomurph86 says:

        Naturally, I disagree with everything you said! But thems the internets!

        “Of course, that may be the entire point of the game – in that case, hats off!”

        :)

    • sebmojo says:

      The limited run is clearly part of The Point, and it’s a perfectly good point. Ultimately any game isn’t sell paper and plastic, it’s selling an experience. Part of the experience here is that sense of exclusivity, of secrets not to be told.

      It’s clever. And also good.

  9. Evilbrennan says:

    Roll to move?

    Ugh.

  10. Geebs says:

    My Rays are called Harryhausen, Bradbury, and Parker Jr.

  11. Stone_Crow says:

    Looking forward to the sequel Sadness: Up my own arse. An epic adventure of making yourself seem special and ‘doing like art and stuff. Suggest Print run of 0 to be super special.

  12. damaki says:

    I see many remarks about the game being not available by most people. Hey, authors can do whatever they want. Maybe it is only a prototype, maybe they do not have enough time to build more, maybe it is not practical, maybe they give it to people they love. Whatever, that is not the point. Sure, it could end as a print and play, but why could not an author do whatever he wants?
    To me this game looks a bit like one of these “one person pen and paper RPGs”. Never tried, but looks cool.

    Thank you Rab for sharing this amazing experience.

    • abomb76 says:

      Amazing experience? Really?

      Let’s drop the hyperbole and call a spade a spade – this was a filler article about a ‘game’ none of us will ever see or play, in short a disappointing installment of Cardboard Children.

  13. Luke Nukem says:

    Thanks for sharing (at least the parts that you did).

  14. CapnHowdy says:

    You know what else a person can share with a few people that you can’t see?

    A fart.

  15. Dawngreeter says:

    The magnitude of my indifference towards this game is rivaled only by the intensity of desire to covey a honest message of “fuck off” to the creator.

    I can’t wait to not spend money on any number of projects which will be marketed as “from the guy who made Sadness”.

  16. alexnevsky says:

    I was kind of hoping the indie board game mentioned last week would be Cave Evil. Ah, well.

    Still, this was interesting. I’ve got a feeling this game doesn’t actually exist, but it’s a good review nonetheless. It’s making me rethink my daily routines and interactions with people in terms of gaming, and my game-playing in terms of real life.

    Always happy to see something different from this column than I get from most of the board game sites I read.

  17. shallowz says:

    WHO CARES?!
    I read all your posts thanks for the work you put in.
    I could not get past the second paragraph
    This took my time away from me to read actual articles.

    Who Cares?

  18. Andrew says:

    Why only ten copies? Perhaps he ran out of loose change for the photocopier.

  19. ben_reck says:

    It’s not that I will never play the game. That’s true of many of the reviewed. It’s not that I didn’t mind reading the review of the game I will never play. It even kinda appeals to be me because I like tables and table results.

    It’s the calculated nature of the distribution: Only ten people will ever own this game but one just so happens to be a boardgame reviewer for RPS. That’s marketing.

  20. jarowdowsky says:

    Nice Rab, you should make something similar, been dancing around it long enough.

    Love the Ballardian concept of The Rays, like so many of his warmed apocalypse

    And roll and move, ah, you cheeky fucker…

  21. ReconRick072 says:

    Wow, a lot of literal thought here in the comments. Personally, I took the article as a metaphor/reflection, much like a prior post link to rockpapershotgun.com.

  22. Xantonze says:

    Perhaps the author (or Rab) made just 10 copies of this as a prototype, and doesn’t want to expose too much of it for now. He sent it to Rab to get his thoughts, and Rab wanted to share them with his readers as well.

    Why not?^^