james-shreeve-fountainhead-pub-mafj-alvarez-10-oct-13-bean-gameThursday 10th October saw the first beans game played with James Shreeve at the Fountainhead pub in Brighton. The first game of the Digital Media Arts course. Whilst course leader Sue Gollifer and visiting lecturers Sam Proud and Paul Bunkham discussed matters James and I cleared a low coffee table near the window and set about writing out our beans.

Half an hour previously we’d visited the print studio where we ‘found’ some abandoned paper and thought that they would appreciate the recycling effort. It was a big sheet so we cut it in half and drew on one half of that. “We’ll have a quick game while we wait for the others’ we said.

The objective:

To collaborate in achieving ultimate success as MA students and artists on the digital MA course by connecting all our aspirations together using choice and chance at a ratio of 4:2. Each player introduces their own list of 12 value beans into the game and these are given value points. Players aim to get as much value out of the course as possibly by the end of play. There are negative value beans to deal with too – these detract from the overall value at the end of play. Decisions once committed to paper are final, and success depends as much on other players ‘helping’ or hindering you as on your own choices.

The bean game can be played by many players but these are the rules for a 2 player game using red and blue lines which must cross.


Each player chooses a colour permanent  pens (sharpies are good) and writes 8 positive and 4 negative outcomes (these can be words in the form of values, objects, expectations etc..) onto butter beans using the markers. Split into 4 groups from most valuable to least valuable, they are scored from 2 to 10 and the values written on the back.

Maf'j Alvarez, James Shreeve and Dave Barnett at the Fountainhead pub, Brighton playing the bean gamePlayers then take turns throwing the beans onto the paper which then scatter randomly. Once all players have done this, they collectively mark out the positions of the beans in pen and write both word and value score inside each bean shape on the paper.

All beans then get gathered up and put aside in a bowl or pile.

Start of play

Players 1 then rolls the dice. If the dice comes up as 1, 2, 3 or 4 these are choice lines. Player 2 then decides which beans player 1 will connect. Player 1 then draws a line between the two beans ensuring that no line or bean outline is touched. Play the switches around and player 2 rolls the dice. Player 1 chooses which beans to connect and then player 2 draws the line. Each player draws lines in their own colour – each bean cannot have 2 connecting lines of the same colour.

If a 5 or 6 is thrown, then the other player picks 2 beans out of the beanpile at random and this is the line to be drawn by other player. If the colour of the players pen won’t work in that random connection both beans must be marked with an X and beans are taken out of play.

Securing a bean – scoring

To win a bean, a player must be the one to connect the second line to a bean, thus securing it. The player then finds the bean in the bean-pile and adds the value to their score (or just holds onto the bean for counting up later)

Game ends when no more connections can be made. At the end of play, all the bean values are added up and negative scores are deducted. The winner is the one with the highest score.


  • No lines must cross
  • No beans directly next to each other should be joined unless by chance
  • Each bean can have only 2 connecting lines coming from it
  • Each bean must have different coloured connecting lines
  • If a connection cannot be made both beans are taken out of play

Thoughts on this game:

The game played in the pub was really interesting. It felt like the right kind of venue to do it. I can see it being very successful with more people too. Socially it’s a good way to spend time without worrying about conversation too much. There are natural talking points because of the words on the beans, the choices people make and other considerations whilst playing the game. In this way it shares a lot with board games such as monopoly, settlers of katan or risk.

Because of the bean throwing/handling, line drawing and pondering – the game drew the attention of the bar tenders who were very curious as to what we were playing. I’d like to organise a bigger table and 8-10 players. There is benefit to the pub also as if people are talking and drinking whilst playing – which if you think that only 1 to 3 players are actively engaged in the game at any one time with others socialising, it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours – and break the ice with potential new friends..

James and I discussed some rules that could involve drinking alcohol. Making decisions under the influence would definitely affect the collective play. Would you get to drink if you ‘won’ a bean or if you lost one. Or could you choose either to have a drink or be given some free beans instead – keep your head and gain more points…. we have yet to explore these ideas.

There are are some rules that i would change for a 2 player game and choice of paper, pens are also considerations.

Philosophically the game has a lot to think about – id like to write about this in another post but roughly speaking what drives me to continue to explore it has to do with how a group of people who don’t know each other, may not speak the same language, have different values and idea, can for a couple of hours interface with minimum need to understand each other but by the end of the game, feel that they know each other a lot more and more importantly they can learn about how each other makes decisions and about how their decisions will affect other people positively or negatively by intent or carelessness.

Randomness also plays a big part of the game. When playing with few players rolling a dice adds the random element by selecting the beans. When playing with larger groups – the players themselves offer much in the way of randomness as choosing connections and routes.

Picking up random connections is the first step – deciding on the route for how those random line will be joined is the hard part. How to make the best of new opportunities whilst not endangering pre-existing connections. The point of not crossing the lines is a legacy from the original ‘houses’ game my mother taught me when i was very young. In that game however the two players fought for supremacy with one player calling out all the connections and the other drawing lines. The objective of the player calling was always to trap the drawing player as quickly as possible – who would loose as soon as they couldn’t make a connection.

For me, collaboration is far more interesting – having a sense of completion, satisfaction and big picture view with a group of people draws appeal. I like the trapping version but play it only with children who seem to get the idea of this immediately. I don’t know at what age children start to understand concepts of collaboration and team-play.

Bean game with James Shreeve at the Fountainhead 10/10/13

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