Itras By and Archipelago: A love story

edited February 2013 in Story Games
Since some people are talking about Itras By as an Archipelago-based game, I'd just like to set the record straight: It isn't. But the relationship is complex. Basically, both games have incorporated elements from each other, as they were designed in parallel.

In 2007 I designed Archipelago, the very first version. It was different from the current version in a few ways; two important differences are that it had no fate cards and no resolution cards. In other words, there was no "Yes, but..." or anything like that.

My friends Ole Peder and Martin had been working on their game Itras By for something like five or six years by then, I think. It was getting serious, and they were going to self-publish it, finally.

There was a lot of crossover and game talk between us; we played in each others' campaign, playtested each others' games, etc.

As I recall it, Ole Peder and Martin were all about setting and technique, but didn't really know what to do with the game system. There was a dice system going on that worked okay, but didn't really feel like it matched the setting - one of those systems that are designed not to interfere with role-playing, more than to help it. The "killer app" (apart from the setting itself) were the fate cards, which introduced randomness and surrealism in the game. They weren't tied to actions, however, just based on player whim. I loved them! (Another game designer had advised Martin and Ole Peder early on to drop the fate cards; luckily, they didn't).

In 2007 I ran an Itras By campaign that was VERY heavy on experimentation. (You can see some allusions to it in the Hippie Method Manifesto I wrote in May 2007). One of the things I tried out in June that year were some impro-based cards. They were a success, and Ole Peder decided to incorporate them into his game.

Itras By was published in Norwegian in 2008, with both fate and resolution cards. (Or chance and action cards, or whatever they/we all ended up calling them officially - there were some different names tried out over time).

In 2009 I put Archipelago II on the internet. It had some major changes - as you've probably guessed by now: I put in fate and resolution cards. The resolution cards were pretty much exactly the same ones that we used in Itras By; the fate cards were generic and very customizable, but the basic idea - to draw a random card that suddenly threw new stuff into the game - was from Martin and Ole Peder's chance card idea. (This has some connection back to the Whimsy Cards of the nineties, but it's uncertain whether the Itras By boys ever actually saw or tried out those cards. I did, once, but while I liked the idea, our group wasn't ready for them at all back in the nineties.)

So there you have it. They came up with Fate cards, I came up with Resolution cards, and in the end, both games ended up using both (in slightly different forms). This is what happens when you just let people steal what they want, which we've done for years.

Questions are welcome! As are comments, and nude pictures of dream creatures swimming past the Moon Tower.


  • It's really cool to set that straight. It's encouraging that these two games collided and shared and grew so much over the past few years. Thanks for dropping this knowledge.
  • Thank you! That's a fascinating story of two games helping to strengthen the other. And an excellent argument for free sharing of ideas.
  • Thanks for that, Matthijs. Having recently played Archipelago II, I was struck by how much Itras By had been informed by that system.

    A word on stealing: I think attribution in the whole game design process is important when you've got an Internet-attention-driven cultural community.

    Steal, but speak the name of the person from whom you stole.
  • This sort of long-running collaboration and influence echoing is so compelling to me.
  • I keep wanting to +1 this and can't find the button.
  • There's a familiar "+1esque" button on this page, if anyone else is looking to hit it.

    Thanks for storytime, Matthijs. It's a beautiful form of collaboration, but a bit scary too! I feel like you and yours are further ahead than I, in that regard.
  • (Another game designer had advised Martin and Ole Peder early on to drop the fate cards; luckily, they didn't).
    It may have been me advising them to drop those cards, and sure; luckily they didn't! ;)

    I like the love story of those games. I believe there's a lot of similar love-stories out there; games being designed in concert or games being inspired by other games, in a kind of love for the subject we share; narration by interaction. Love is fueling our developments, kind of.
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