Kinesthetic Play and Creative Play

Last night was game night and, while we were waiting for our last member to arrive, I pulled out the HABA game Animal Upon Animal. It’s a very simple stacking and balance game, perfect for the 4-6 year old crowd.

While I find Animal Upon Animal delightful by itself, last night I added a twist - with each play, you had to add a detail about the life of a sad post office employee.

I sort of did this as a joke but it actually made the game riveting. Together we told a really interesting, coherent, and drama-filled story that ended neatly when someone won the game (it was me). The skills we were employing were at odds with each other - orderly rules following, tactile play requiring judgement and precision, and the necessity of creative input into an existing narrative all came together in a fun, challenging way.

I think our story was actually better because of the kinesthetic component. It reminded me a little of having to touch the tower in Star Crossed. Maybe it forced us to lower our guard and just “empty mind” our contributions a little. Maybe just having something to do with our hands was helpful. It was an interesting experiment I will definitely repeat.


Honest and truly, bravo. Rolling dice feels great, but there are so many types of game pieces and interactions we can make with them that need to be explored.

If you haven’t heard of Dread I highly recommend you check it out, you’ve invented a unique evolution of that idea.

I hope it doesn’t hijack your thread too much, and if does please let me know and I’ll split this off, but I’d be interested to hear if you or others know of or have ideas for other kinesthetic mechanics.

I’ve spoken about it before but I feel like current ttrpg tech is woefully undersaturated in artifact creation through play. Things like a map that grows through shared exploration, a tapestry that details the adventure, or something more physical that is collaboratively built as part of and in response to conflicts in the story. Even something more personal like a paper doll/cipher that can be modified and evolve along with your character to create a more physical connection to them. Personally, I hate the repeating pattern of having a laundry list of magic items and forgetting about all of them because they’re just words on a page.

In my own time this is why I’ve been experimenting with card based mechanics. I love the physicality of manipulating cards and I think they can offer novel and more unique randomness over dice. In my most recent games I’ve also taken to using metal board game coins for XP. I think it helps my players feel a more realized connection between actions and advancement. I also constantly need to fiddle with my hands so it helps for me to have a clinking noise maker both for my own sanity and to wordlessly egg my players on.

I apologise for this rambling post but this subject is right up my alley.


Dread uses Jenga, correct? I think a case could be made for using old maid deck of cards. I’m not sure how popular it is around the world but its Polish incarnation (Piotruś) is extremely common locally. Deck has a single odd card that’s a hot potato sort of item so simple act of drawing from the deck can be used as a randomizer with increasing stress level. Regular game rules can also be used to represent some sort of economy (with card pairs acting as tokens that can be spent on stuff).


Yup, exactly correct. It could be argued that you lose the kinsthesia when moving from a wobbly tower to drawing a card, but in the interest of accommodating everyone any system in which each random event increases the potential of the subsequent event to trigger works.

I think a great starting point for these types of mechanics is looking to existing games like Jenga. Something simple to analyze and easy to resolve works just like dice and by taking the emotional response you feel from that game you can transplant it into roleplay.


There’s a pick-up-sticks game that could work out. It’s much more portable than Jenga and it frustrated me to no end when I was a child. Should work for high stakes randomization.


Cool experience ! I’d like to learn from it confirming it was indeed about empty mind. Did you or other players strategise your fiction moves ? By strategise I mean : think “if I say this, they’ll say that, so in order to get X I’d better say Y”.

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It seems unlikely, given the speed of turns and the general mood.


I’m familiar with Dread. In the case of my experiment everything happened at once. It wasn’t about resolving conflict.


Thank you. Empty mind is a nice ground for creativity.

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Ha! I can only imagine how much Dread you played to create Star Crossed.

Meanwhile, what do you think of connecting the type of kinetic moves with an equivalent feeling of story move?

For example, building up a tower is more equivalent to building a story but pulling it apart like in Dread and Star Crossed reflect building tension and eventual story collapse.

Any thoughts on this?

I thought about it, and look : going down this road, you will soon be tempted to use the specifics of the mini-game to inform the story, like “crocos are for angry people and snake is for gossips” or if you hit the target with the rubber band, it’s a wound. Carry on like this and you’ll end up throwing bones or drawing cards to tell fortune in the story. I will keep the “focus on the kinetic, empty your mind” nugget.


I think you’re right that doing something with your hands (or your body in general) helps you free your thoughts. I always find I think better when I’m out walking, where keeping my body moving and not falling into a ditch or something keeps enough of my mind busy that the rest can toil away at something without that something being crowded out by everything else that intrudes if I’m just sitting around thinking. (Though that may be my undiagnosed letter combination thing.)

For a different track and more specifically, now I want a game where you’re each doing your own stacking thing while representing different aspects of the main character or the story, like Love, Regret, and so on, and whenever someone’s tower is knocked over that aspect is eliminated and whoever is left standing gets to decide the outcome. So if the Love player “wins”, love wins out in the story, but if it’s the “Grief” player, well, things may not turn out so well.


I did not create Star Crossed (Alex Roberts did) but I’m pals with Epidiah Ravachol and played Dread when it was still a dew-covered baby game. In both Dread and Star Crossed the tower provides dramatic tension (The working title of Star Crossed was, in fact, Tension) that is totally appropriate to the game’s concept. When it falls, that informs the story in a profound way that indeed takes the metaphor out of collapse.

What I was doing here was a little different, in that my materials had no bearing on the fiction, they didn’t make sense in context, and it still proved very beneficial. This points, to me, to the inherent benefits of mixing inputs and blurring the kinesthetic with the cerebral, which is probably why I am so interested in larp.


Go make that game! It sounds great.


I’ll just squeeze it in between my D&D 4E toolkit, the Beyond the Wall/Forged In the Dark thing, the Descended from the Queen fairy tale creature game, the world creation storytelling card game… :smiley:

Though actually, this is probably the kind of game that could be done in just a few paragraphs. I’ll give it a shot and we’ll see.

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It’s not leaving me alone so what the hell, I’ll just type it in right here.


Materials: 3-5 players and a good supply of blocks that can be stacked but will eventually fall over. Six-sided dice work if you have nothing else suitable.

Step 1: Subject
Decide who your story is going to be about. It could be a single person, a family, a city, the crew of a ship (space or other), or something else. Make it about people you want to care how they end up.

Step 2: Aspects
Each player picks an aspect of the story they are going to push. This should be an emotional or thematic aspect, like Love, Horror, Family, Duty, Greed, or something else. The aspects could be very different or close to each other - Duty, Honor, Loyalty, and Dignity could make for an interesting game, as could Love, Regret, Death, and Power. Make sure everyone’s comfortable with all the aspects.

Step 3: Tell the Story
Players take turns going clockwise from whoever starts. Or counterclockwise, I’m not the boss of you, it’s your game.

On your turn, take one of the blocks and add it to your stack. You may only speak while you are holding the block and you can’t hold it still. You must either be moving it - shifting it from hand to hand, rolling it in your palm, or otherwise manipulating it - or trying to place it on your stack.

While you are speaking you should be pushing your aspect in the story. If you are playing Greed you should describe how the characters act out of greed, or how greed affects what happens to them. No player owns any of the characters but make sure you’re leaving room for the other players to add to the story. Also, don’t keep talking for too long. If someone is hogging the spotlight, everyone else should feel free to make harrumphing noises until they get the point.

If you drop your block or if your stack falls over, you are out of the game. Don’t sulk.

Step 4: End the Story
When you are the only player left in the game, you don’t have to take a block. Instead you get to describe how the story ends with your aspect being victorious.

Appendix: Stacking
Make up rules for how the blocks should be stacked that allow everyone to reliably stack at least five of them but probably no more than ten, depending on how long you want the game to be.


I am still stuck a bit on the symbolism of an action but maybe it would work less “hands on” (sorry, could not resist). How about this?

A game where you create a romantic story while assembling Ikea or mail order furniture? Every screw / peg added is a turn. Any required disassembling or question about the instructions adds a complication. Any damage done to the furniture represents a significant fight. If you give up on assembly that day before the job is done, the story is a tragedy. If you complete assembly, the story ends as a comedy. Once assembled, any non-essential lost piece (missing screw, superficial panel) is something a character gave up to achieve their happy ending.


There’s another HABA game called Zitternix that’s esssentially equal parts Jenna and pick up sticks. Players pull sticks of three different sizes (color coded) until the ring that holds them together touched the table. I could see it being used for a Dread style game, with the added bonus that the MC could call for different pulls based on difficulty.

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My personal experience with Ikea assembly tells me that there is always going to be bloodshed.


“I’m not the boss of you, it’s your game.” is very good.
The Ikea game is … Ambrose Biercian.