STICKS & DISCS & BLOCKS (by Tom Russell)

Mary Russell


Table Battles was Richard Berg’s fault. His game Dynasty required some rectangular wooden pieces to represent the great wall and grand canal, and to get a decent price on those pieces from our German supplier, we needed to get an awful lot of them – more than we could ever need for Richard’s game. So we got a few different colors and I tried to come up with a game that could use the excess, and that was Table Battles.


At the time, I figured a handful of folks would enjoy it, maybe I’d get to do an expansion or two, and over the course of a year or two we’d be able to use up the excess wood bits. When we announced the game a few months before its release, the response was very positive, and Mary suggested that we order another set of sticks. This was very wise, as we ran out of the initial batch within a couple days. That second batch didn’t arrive until the following week, and that batch ran out at the beginning of our 2017 Hollandays sale. We had by that time already ordered a third batch, and those arrived just before Christmas, allowing us to fulfill the outstanding orders.


Table Battles is my most popular design for Hollandspiele, our best-selling game, and a flagship title. It’s led to four expansions (the fifth is releasing next January), a pack-in for C3i magazine, and there was some other thing but I’m blanking on the title for some reason, I’m sure Mary will remind me of it later. And all of that happened because we needed to use up some extra sticks we had ordered. I told Richard that over the phone, and his response was fairly pragmatic. “Does that mean I get a cut?”


Last year, concurrent with our sale, we released Westphalia, for which we needed lots and lots of bits in four different shapes and eight different colors. Most of these were used up during the sale, and before it was over, we had ordered our second batch. Now, in order to get a good price per unit, we needed to order many more bits than we would actually need for Westphalia specifically - and certainly in a COVID-blanketed world, it’s probably no surprise that a game for exactly six players isn’t exactly making money hand over fist.



And so when I designed The Field of the Cloth of Gold, I made sure to use some of these leftover Westphalia bits. When we needed some control markers for White Eagle Defiant and didn’t have room on the countersheet, my first thought was: let’s use some Westphalia discs. Need some Law markers for The Vote: Suffrage and Suppression in America? Let’s throw some discs at it. And when I started working on Dual Gauge, one of my starting points for the design was, “Okay, how can I build this around some of those Westphalia discs?” In fact, those last couple of games needed discs that weren’t in the original color set, prompting us to order yet another batch, which is the Table Battles problem all over again. It is, of course, a good problem to have.

Side note: it’s actually much, much easier to work with these chunky smooth round discs than tiny jagged cornered cubes. By which I mean the physical act of scooping them out of the box is less finicky and irritating, to the point where I’m seriously considering shifting from cubes to discs while I’m working on Supply Lines of Frederick the Great.


This desire to design new things to use up available bits has three main causes. First, we’ve a natural tendency toward thrift. Second, design constraints are often useful in defining the initial parameters of the game (in much the same way that most of my games are designed to use a half-sheet of 88 counters, and further designed with five single-color blocks of sixteen counters and one single-color block of eight).


Thirdly, and this is actually the most important part, boxes of unused wood bits take up a lot of physical space. One of the rooms in our house is now, effectively, the wood bits room: just boxes and boxes piled up on top of each other. Some of these boxes have split around the corners from the weight of the boxes on top of them, giving their captive sticks and discs and pawns and cubes, especially those pointy, pointy cubes, an opportunity to escape so as to pursue their lifelong dream of being caltrops. Sometimes Mary sees me putting on my shoes, and asks if I’m going outside, and I have to say, no, I’m just going to the back to get some wood bits.


A place of honor in that room are the boxes holding the chonky blocks we ordered for our two abstract titles, Ty Bomba’s Boom & Zoom and Mark Herman’s Ribbit. Each one of these individual blocks is much larger, and much heavier, than any other shape in our inventory, and so we had to order a lot more of them to bring the price down to something reasonable. The obvious solution of course is for me to design a block game around them, and every once in a while Mary reminds me I need to do that. The trouble of course is that I would want to do something new with the form – I absolutely do not want to borrow that old chestnut “the ‘A’ units roll before the ‘B’ units roll before the ‘C’ units, dice equal to number of steps, hits scored according to numerical rating”. And given the size of the blocks versus the size of our boxes, I’d be limited to only a couple dozen pieces. Which is a pretty interesting design constraint, but one I haven’t quite cracked yet.



  • Tom, Ingenuity is the name of this game !

    Jorge Viduenez

  • Looks like this article was prescient on the matter of running out of wooden bits! So glad I got Vote and Cloth when I did…
    I’m one of the folks who got Westphalia back in January, only to see it languish on the shelf until the world gets back to normal. Oh well, it makes for a good story about the casualties of COVID-19.
    Also, as someone who really enjoys moving the Ribbit pieces around, I’m looking forward to seeing what else those slabs could turn into…

    Eric Merchant

  • It’s always nice to see a serendipitous outcome to problems like that. Seeing Table Battles is what first drew me to Hollandspiele. Also, Supply Lines of what now? Shut up and take my money!

    Carl Karnuth

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